Main Sad Girls
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Amazing, the minute I started reading this novel ... I just could not put it down and I laughed and weeped just reading.
17 March 2020 (06:49)
Since yesterday there is some problem is happening in this app ,because all books is taking too much time to converting books into pdf version
24 May 2020 (20:42)
Cant seem to open the file when i download the book
29 May 2020 (04:01)
Can't open books fix it cause it was a good site
02 June 2020 (18:40)
Finished reading this in one day! I must say, the plot truly intrigues the readers, and you can't help but feel drawn to the characters, so flawed so raw and very much human just like the rest of us.
30 June 2020 (08:38)
I downloaded the book at my android phone and it says that there's no ways to open the book :<
07 July 2020 (15:05)
i cant open the file.
28 July 2020 (10:09)
hay mucho contenido pero en ingles :(
06 August 2020 (06:50)
You can open the file with epub reader app like moon reader
10 August 2020 (19:48)
This app in itself makes everything difficult
12 October 2020 (00:46)
the ending really confused me
17 November 2020 (22:53)
I can't open the file
26 November 2020 (15:50)
I can't open the file
02 December 2020 (04:34)
This book was awesome, definitely recommend.
And I see that a lot of people here are struggling to open the file, your phone or reader probably supports a different format so just convert it to a different format that your phone supports, this happened to me the first time i used this app and i started using convertio, just type in convertio on google and put your file in.
Hope this helped:)
And I see that a lot of people here are struggling to open the file, your phone or reader probably supports a different format so just convert it to a different format that your phone supports, this happened to me the first time i used this app and i started using convertio, just type in convertio on google and put your file in.
Hope this helped:)
02 December 2020 (15:37)
This book is awful, writing is terrible, plot is ridiculous.
27 December 2020 (03:20)
if you´re having troubling opening the book in epub format upload it to google play books and it´ll open
11 January 2021 (05:38)
Tienen que descargar el archivo y descargar una app llamada RedEra o ereader prestigio
11 March 2021 (10:59)
Really liked it, ending was shoking
07 May 2021 (15:55)
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GREAT Dr CLEMENT CAN AS WELL CURE all diseases as well as FOLLOWING.
5. HEPATITIS B
7. HUMAN PAPILOMA VIRUS DISEASE(HPV
Contact him Whatsapp +2347051758952
09 May 2021 (03:14)
If you can't open the file, go to your apps section and type into the app search bar "Files". It'll be downloaded in there. Worked for me and I have a Google (Android) phone.
11 May 2021 (05:55)
In memory of Nicole Lewanski May your love of books live on in others. PART ONE The Girl Who Cried Wolf But you can’t make people listen. They have to come round in their own time, wondering what happened and why the world blew up around them. —Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 Death, like fiction, is brutal in its symmetry. Take this story and strip it down—all the way back—until you are left with two points. Two dots on a vast, blank canvas, separated by a sea of white. Here, we have come to the first point, where the bath is drawn and the hand is reaching for the razor blade. I will meet you at the next, by the axle of a screaming wheel, the revolution of a clock, the closing of an orbit. One I was three weeks shy of turning eighteen when I was struck with the cruel affliction of anxiety. It came in the form of a panic attack, seemingly from nowhere—a bolt from the blue. Like a thunderclap in my chest, an icy river down the length of my spine. Terror and confusion clawed at the edges of my brain as I clutched fistfuls of the sweat-soaked bedsheets I had slept fitfully in, just moments before. As my mind struggled to comprehend this new and frightful development, there was a dim thought that echoed through the midst of my blind panic. It told me, with a chilling certainty, that nothing would ever be the same again. I have no doubt that the sudden onset of my anxiety had everything to do with the lie. To this day, I do not know why that terrible untruth spilled from my lips. But as soon as it did, the lie formed a life of its own. It became an evil presence, a curse. I told this wicked lie one ill-fated night to my two best friends, Lucy and Candela, who were sworn to secrecy on the lives of their loved ones. Lucy offered up her mother, and Candela, her sister Eve. Perhaps I had wanted to create some kind of commotion, something to break the monotony. Like the boy who cried wolf, tricking the nearby villagers for his own amusement. Whatever the reason, the lie cau; sed a chain of events that I did not foresee. The culmination of which still haunts me to this very day. For I have no doubt that my life and the lives of my two best friends would have been different if that night had never happened. If the lie that left my lips had only slipped away without the opportunity to persist, like a brewing storm, pushed out to sea, to dissipate over the restless waves. Like the night I absentmindedly boarded the wrong bus, carrying bits of change in my pocket and a phone with a dead battery, only to realize I was being driven farther and farther into a bad part of town. And my dilemma was whether I should trust the bus driver to take me back to the depot where I could call my parents to collect me or whether I should alight at the next stop and try to find my way back to familiar territory. I chose the latter, and it just so happened that my father, on his way home from a late meeting, had turned the corner just as I was getting off the bus. If I had stayed on the bus, perhaps the man who reeked of gin, who had looked at me sideways once too often, had become aware of my predicament. How many stories do we hear about young girls who find themselves in the wrong part of town and are never found again? I could have become another statistic, but, instead, I was safe, riding shotgun with my dad, stopping by our local supermarket to pick up groceries on our way home. The situation I was in led me to think of all the possible outcomes where I could have been abducted, raped, or murdered. At times, the scenarios I pictured were so graphic they left me wondering whether, perhaps, there is another version of me somewhere that has lived it. Maybe we slip in and out of alternate worlds through our minds and our imaginations, picking up scar tissue from other dimensions. My recollection of the night I told that lie is just as vivid as if it were yesterday. I remember how the words tumbled from my mouth, my mind unsure of how the story was being formed, like a spider that spins its first web without any comprehension of where the ability was acquired. I can recall the looks on the faces of my two best friends, their eyes wide with horror and disgust. “I saw them through the window,” I had said earnestly, “when I was collecting for the Red Cross.” I was known to be an honest person, and unless it was completely outrageous, my word was as good as any. The window I was referring to belonged to a house I walked by every day on my way to school, and it was easy to furnish it with my half-truths and utter fabrications. Shortly after the establishment of the lie, a fight broke out between me and Candela, who cried tears of disbelief and wanted to confront the protagonist of my carefully crafted narrative. Realizing this would implicate me, I did my best to dissuade her from doing so—a decision I now deeply regret. Indeed, if the lie had been kept contained among the three of us, it would have ended there. If it were to come up in conversation years later, I would have admitted it was purely fictional and that I had no idea what drove me to create such a story. However, without our knowledge, Eve, Candela’s kid sister, had her ear pressed against the other side of the door, and she later relayed our conversation to Candela’s mother. It was the opening the lie had been waiting for. Through this channel, it slipped beyond my reach and spread through our small town of Three Oaks like wildfire. All at once, everyone knew the sordid details of the lie I had fabricated; it was blindly accepted as truth. It was apparent that Candela’s mother had not given away any specifics of how she came by the rumor, as no one seemed to know its true origin. In the dying embers and blackened twigs of a ravaged forest, who could distinguish where the first spark was lit? Only the arsonist knows the exact location where that match was struck. Days later, the victim of my deceit—seventeen-year-old Ana—was found in her family’s white porcelain bathtub, with blood gushing and bubbling from her two delicate wrists. It was on the same night that I suffered my first panic attack. Two Ana was the original sad girl. She held the unofficial title long before her death. We all became sad girls after that. At her funeral, everyone wore black because it was customary and because it was the color that best defined Ana. We learned in art class that, technically, black is not a color but, rather, the absence of it. Black is a shade—one that holds its presence in every gradation of gray, departing only with its transition into white. I have always thought of white as a clean slate, an unwritten page. A snow-covered field or a wedding dress. White is starting over, an absolution from your sins. That day, I was the furthest away from white that I could possibly be. Ana’s funeral service was held at Holy Trinity, our local church. I sat in the back pew with my mother, who was staring straight ahead, her mouth set in a hard, firm line. The Peter Pan collar of my dress felt constrictive around my neck, and when I pulled at it with my forefinger, she shot me a look of annoyance. “Stop fidgeting, Audrey,” she muttered under her breath. I let my hand fall into my lap. Earlier that morning, I had stood in front of the large mirror above my dresser. As I stared at my reflection, I felt the oddest sensation that it was someone else staring back. The girl in the mirror had the same auburn hair that hung straight and low past her shoulders. Her eyes, gazing fixedly into mine, were an identical shade of forget-me-not blue. Like me, she was cursed with a smattering of freckles across her nose, courtesy of the hot Australian sun. But she was someone I didn’t recognize, like an imposter who had stepped into my body and was acting of her own accord. The black dress my mother had purchased specifically for this occasion was made from a rough woolen fabric that rubbed unpleasantly against my skin. It felt almost like a punishment, like so many of the decisions my mother made on my behalf. I spotted Lucy sitting a few pews up between her doting parents, her forefinger twisting absentmindedly through her honey-blonde hair. For as long as I had known her, Lucy had a habit of playing with her hair. She did it unconsciously whenever she was thinking hard about something. Autumn was Lucy’s favorite season, and I couldn’t think of a more befitting way to describe her. She had eyes that were the color of burnt amber and a dewy peaches and cream complexion. She radiated a soft, mellow warmth reminiscent of fall—an old soul in a young girl’s body. Two weeks before, she’d had her braces removed, and her smile was like a burst of sunlight piercing through a raincloud. On Lucy’s right sat Candela, who was with her mother and her sister, Eve. Where Lucy was soft, like a watercolor, Candela was bold and headstrong. She carried herself like a storm or a melodrama. She could walk into a room and instantly change the atmosphere. Her beautiful olive skin (an ode to her Indian heritage) and sultry bee-stung lips were the envy of every girl at school. She had emerald-green eyes that could turn from warm to icy within the space of a millisecond. When Ana’s father stood up to speak at the podium, I watched as Lucy glanced over at Candela and the two exchanged a knowing look. Then Candela turned her head around and caught my eye, sending a wry smile in my direction. She began to mouth something to me when her mother tugged sharply at the sleeve of her dress and she abruptly swung her head back around, her raven-black hair sweeping across her slender neck. After Ana’s eulogy was read, we were each given a white rose (passed down the wooden pews in cane wicker baskets), and the minister instructed us to place them inside the open casket. I was last in line, so by the time I saw her, Ana’s frail body was already covered in flowers. She was even more beautiful in death than when she was alive—if that were possible. She looked like an angel in her white satin dress; her pink glossy lips were set in an expression of peaceful serenity. The locks of tawny-gold hair that framed her perfect heart-shaped face were immaculately brushed and shone like a halo. “I’m sorry,” I whispered, placing my rose somewhere among the other apologies. At the post-funeral reception, the mood was just as somber. There were no philosophical musings or fond recollections. Ana had left the world too early. As I passed the buffet, the sight and smell of food made my stomach turn. But not so much as the murmurings that caught my ear. “. . . mother didn’t turn up to her own daughter’s funeral . . .” “. . . brought in for questioning but no charges laid . . .” “. . . can’t be true.” “. . . why else would she kill herself?” “So tragic. Poor girl.” “. . . disgusting . . .” It was my moment, then, to clear it all up. To stand on one of the many folding chairs scattered across the room and tell everyone the truth. To say out loud what my mind was screaming in my guilt-ridden silence. That it was my fault Ana was dead. I was sitting by the window, on a smoky gray chaise lounge, when Candela came to join me. “Hey, Audrey,” she said. “Hey,” I replied. “Where’s Duck?” she asked. “He’s sick with the flu.” My boyfriend, Brian Duckman (whom we all called Duck), was the proverbial boy next door. He lived only a few houses away from me, and we could wave at each other if we stood out on the respective decks of our suburban bungalows. We had been friends for as far back as I could remember. One summer, I went away with his family to their lake house up north. At the tail end of our trip, Duck and I were hanging out with some kids down by the lake. We were taking turns running down the length of the jetty and hurling ourselves in the water. When it was my turn, I tripped just as I was about to launch myself into the air, hitting my head on the edge of the decking and tumbling into the lake. Everything went black. When I came to, I was sputtering water freshly pumped from my chest. Murmurs from the crowd around me washed over my ears like a radio signal; the sun blazing overhead seeped into my shut eyelids. Duck had found me at the bottom of the lake. He had to dive twice before he was able to locate my limp body and carry me back to the surface. That night, with my near-death experience on my mind, I snuck into his room, slipped into his bed, and our friendship turned into something more. It was my first time and his as well. For a while, we kept it to ourselves, but eventually it became apparent that we were more than friends. Our mothers had always been close, and it was no secret that they had long since held the romantic notion of Duck and I living happily ever after. Across the room, Lucy was standing next to her boyfriend, Freddy, and they were in mid-conversation with a boy I didn’t recognize. Lucy had begun dating Freddy only a year ago, but they reminded everyone of an old married couple. “Who’s that guy Lucy and Freddy are talking to?” I asked Candela. “That’s Rad—Ana’s boyfriend,” Candela said, and I felt a lurch in my stomach. “He was at St. John’s with Freddy when they graduated last year.” “Oh,” I said. “I didn’t know Ana had a boyfriend.” “Yeah, they’ve been together for ages. Kind of like you and Duck.” All of a sudden, a memory I had forgotten came back to me, sharp and piercing. It must have been about a year ago. I was standing in line behind Ana at the library. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but when she went to remove her borrowing card, I caught sight of a photo behind the plastic film of her wallet. “Who’s that?” I had asked casually. “Just my boyfriend, Rad,” she had shrugged, removing the photograph and handing it to me. “Isn’t he dreamy?” My eyes had fallen on the monochromatic portrait of a boy standing against a seaside setting, with dark windswept hair and brows softly knitted as though the camera had caught him by surprise. I realized with a sinking feeling that it was the same boy who was now speaking to Lucy and Freddy across the room. As though sensing he was being watched, Rad looked over, and for one brief moment, our eyes locked. He attempted a half smile—it looked more like a grimace—before turning his attention back to Lucy, who reached out and put her hand on his arm. A few moments later, Freddy and Lucy made their way over to us as Rad strode out of the room. “How is he?” asked Candela. “Not good,” said Freddy, with a shake of his head. It was weird seeing Freddy in a suit. He was always in some quirky getup—checked shirts and contrasting ties, Vans with bold floral patterns. He wore black Buddy Holly glasses that teetered at the edge of his nose, and he was always pushing them up again. “Poor thing,” said Lucy, shaking her head. “He must be going through hell.” The air seemed to grow thicker all of a sudden, and I stood up quickly. Candela’s eyes darted upward. “Are you okay, Audrey?” “Yeah,” I mumbled, “I just need some air.” I stumbled out onto the back porch a little unsteadily and clung to the wrought iron balustrade, my breathing quick and ragged. “Are you all right?” came a voice from behind me. I looked back, startled. Rad was sitting on a swinging chair that creaked softly as it swung gently back and forth. He dug his shoes into the ground and walked toward me, a look of concern crossing his face. “I’m fine,” I said. Ana is dead because of me. The words flashed unbidden through my mind, and my body gave an involuntary shudder. Rad stood there for a minute or so, his gaze fixed steadily on me. It was the first time we had ever stood face-to-face, and I noticed that the color of his eyes didn’t quite match. One was a stormy gray, the other a summer blue. “Do you want a glass of water?” he asked. “No, thanks,” I said. I bit down hard on the inside of my cheek, and the sharp pain gave my mind a much-needed diversion. We stood like that for a while, until my breathing began to steady. Rad looked relieved. “Did you go to school with Ana?” he asked. I nodded. “Were you close to her?” “No,” I said. “Not really.” He turned away from me, looking skyward and sighing deeply. “Can I ask you something?” he asked. “Sure,” I replied. “Do you believe in heaven?” I looked at him, a little taken aback. “I don’t know,” I said truthfully, with a small shake of my head. “I believe there is something, though.” “How do you know for sure?” he asked. “It’s a feeling, I suppose.” “A feeling?” “Yeah, kind of like . . .” I paused, searching for the right word. “Like intuition,” I said finally. He nodded. “I suppose that makes sense.” He was quiet for a few moments, and then he turned to look at me, his eyes level with mine. “What about hell?” I felt my heart seize in my chest. For one irrational moment, I thought, He knows about the lie. But then I realized it was just my own paranoia. “Yes,” I said, thinking back to my panic attack the other night. “I believe there’s a hell.” There was a loud crash that came from inside the house, and we turned our heads in unison. “What was that?” asked Rad. “I don’t know. We should go back inside.” The living room was a mess. The table was overturned, and there were plates of food scattered across the floor. Ana’s dad was standing amidst the chaos, one hand cradled protectively over his left cheek, a trickle of blood running from the side of his mouth. Everyone watched in stunned silence as Ana’s uncle stood with his fist partly raised, his face twisted with rage. “You sick fuck!” he snarled. “She was a child, for Chrissake!” He was about to throw another punch when Ana’s mother pulled him back. “Stop it!” she screamed, stepping between them. “Why didn’t you stop him, Mia?” he said spinning around to face her. “You must have known what was going on.” She shook her head helplessly. “I didn’t know,” she whispered. Ana’s dad turned to face her, his eyes filled with despair. “Mia,” he said helplessly. “You know I never touched our daughter—” She shook her head in disgust. “Don’t you dare talk to me,” she hissed, before turning on her heel and striding away. There was a tense silence in the room, broken only when someone began to pick up the shattered plates. Quiet murmurs floated from all directions as Ana’s mother was led up the stairs by a pair of somber-faced relatives. With his head bowed and averted from everyone’s gaze, Ana’s dad turned and left the room. I glanced at Rad and knew that the look of horror on his face mirrored my own—although for different reasons. “Let’s get out of here,” he muttered under his breath. Outside, the sky was a dark, moody blue. There was a strip of orange along the horizon, one rolling spark of flame the impending night would soon extinguish. “Want to go for a drive?” asked Rad. “Okay.” We walked to his car, a white sedan, which was parked across the street. I got into the passenger seat. There was a small tear in the upholstery, and I ran my fingers over it, thinking about the countless number of times Ana must have sat there. A flash of guilt opened me up like a fresh, gaping wound. Rad got into the driver’s seat beside me and shut the door behind him. The silence between us was comfortable despite the strange turn of events that led us there. As we pulled away from the curb, I turned my head back for one last look at Ana’s house and could just barely make out her dad sitting bent over on the porch step, the light from the end of his cigarette glowing pitifully against the graying sky. “Are you hungry?” asked Rad. We had been driving aimlessly for the last ten minutes through the suburban streets. We barely said a word the whole time, but it was a companionable silence. “A little,” I admitted. I couldn’t remember the last time I ate. “There’s a burger place nearby called Alfie’s Kitchen. Have you heard of it?” I shook my head. “No.” “It’s a hole in the wall. They only serve one type of burger, but it’s pretty damn good. And their strawberry milkshake is the best thing in the world. What do you think?” “Sounds good,” I said. Alfie’s Kitchen was a small beachfront kiosk that sat atop a grassy hill. Like Rad had mentioned, the place looked unassuming, but the crowd of people waiting to be served suggested there was something special about the place. A canvas awning the color of sandstone extended from the brick front, casting a block of shadow over the sprawling lawn where a number of plastic tables and seats were scattered across the patchy grass. A girl in a crisp white uniform and bouncy ponytail stood behind the counter, taking orders while two chefs behind her worked away in the busy kitchen. The air was filled with the rich smell of fried onions and the sound of sizzling patties. As we progressed farther in the queue, I noticed several photographs of celebrities taped to the sides of the walls, burgers clutched triumphantly in their hands and grins plastered across their faces. By the time we got our meals, the tables were all taken, so we made our way over to an empty park bench a short walk away. The bench sat near the edge of a rocky cliff and overlooked the ocean. The sky was growing dimmer by the minute, and aside from the crowd in the distance, we were now alone. Toward the horizon, a man was preparing to launch a large multicolored kite into the sky. “I come here pretty often,” said Rad, sitting down on the park bench. “Yeah?” I said, sitting beside him. “The light is beautiful this time of day, especially during the summer. The sunsets go on forever.” “It’s nice here,” I agreed, pulling my burger from its brown paper wrapper. I didn’t realize just how hungry I was until I took the first bite. “Strange day, huh?” he said, taking a sip of his milkshake. “Yeah,” I agreed. I felt queasy all of a sudden and put my burger down on the bench. My fingers gripped the wooden slats. “Are you okay?” Rad asked. He put his burger down too and turned to face me. “I’m okay,” I said, taking a deep breath to steady myself. “It just occurred to me that I’ve never known anyone who’s died before except my granddad, but I was just a kid at the time.” “Me too,” said Rad quietly. For a moment, he had a faraway look in his eyes, and then he shuddered as though shaking off a memory. “Hey.” He turned to me. “Can we make a deal?” “What kind of deal?” “Let’s not talk about Ana tonight. The last few days have been a nightmare, and I just want to feel normal again. Even if it’s only for a few hours.” His eyes looked into mine. “Is that okay?” He extended his hand to me. “Yeah,” I said, secretly relieved. I took his hand, and we shook on it. I noticed the strange coloring of his eyes again. I wanted to ask him about them but wasn’t sure how to bring it up without sounding rude. “Why are you looking at me like that?” he asked. “Do I have sauce on my lips or something?” He fumbled with his napkin. I shook my head quickly, feeling the heat rise to my face. “No,” I said, looking away. Then I turned my head back to face him. “It’s just, well, your eyes. They’re amazing, incredible. Like, they’re really, really cool.” My words came out all fragmented, and I wondered whether he thought I was a complete idiot. “Oh, you mean the heterochromia,” said Rad. “Is that the scientific term?” I asked. “Yeah,” he smiled. “I hated the fact that my eyes were different when I was growing up.” “Are you kidding? I would love to have your eyes.” “Well, we can swap if you want; I’m not that attached to them.” “You don’t want my eyes. They’re kind of goofy. My mum says they’re too big for my face.” “I think your eyes are really pretty,” he said and then looked immediately embarrassed. “Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.” “Of course not.” There was an awkward silence. “You know there’s this series where the main character has different-colored eyes,” I said. “Yeah?” “Uh-huh. His name is Spike Spiegel.” “From Cowboy Bebop?” I nodded. “Have you seen it?” “Yeah, but it was a long time ago. It must have been when I was going through my anime phase.” “I’m probably still in that phase.” “You are? What’s your favorite?” “Uh, Macross . . .” “Which series of Macross?” “Super Dimension Fortress.” “That’s definitely the best one,” said Rad. He shook his head and smiled. “Talk about a trip down memory lane.” “I can’t believe you’ve actually seen Macross. I don’t know anyone else who has.” “Me neither, come to think of it,” said Rad. “I tried to get my boyfriend to watch it with me once, but he wasn’t keen.” “Your boyfriend?” “Yeah, Duck.” “You have a boyfriend named Duck?” “Well, that’s what we all call him. His actual name is Brian Duckman.” “Oh, that makes sense.” He picked up his burger again. “So how long have you been together?” “Since we were kids, basically. But we have literally nothing in common.” “No?” I shook my head. “We disagree on just about everything. I can never play my music out loud around him. And he’s not really into books. But I suppose they say opposites attract.” “He doesn’t read books?” said Rad. “No. Well, actually, there’s a book he’s reading at the moment. I think it’s called Yes—Now What’s the Next Question?” “Isn’t that a self-help book?” “Yeah, something like that.” “I suppose you prefer fiction?” I nodded. “Definitely.” “What’s your favorite book?” I thought for a moment. “The Land of Laughs, I think.” “That’s a good one.” “Do you remember the scene where Thomas is traveling through mountain towns while working on his father’s biography?” Rad nodded. “I think that’s always been my dream.” “To write your dad’s biography?” There was a hint of a smile on his face. I laughed. “Not exactly. But I would love to write something, maybe a book. I want to travel to a small town someday—one with fir trees and snowcapped mountains. Then I would spend an entire winter writing to my heart’s content.” “I like the sound of that,” he said. We were quiet for a few minutes. “Actually,” he looked embarrassed, “I’ve been working on a book.” “You’re writing a novel?” “Yeah, I mean, it’s early days.” “What’s it about?” He frowned. “I’m not sure exactly. It’s a little hazy at the moment. I’m still waiting for the idea to come together.” “I know what that’s like.” “So I guess you’re working on something too?” “Not really,” I said, looking away. “Only stuff for the school magazine.” “Well, that still counts,” he said. “What have you been writing?” “Mainly short stories. A few articles here and there.” “Short stories are so underrated.” “I know.” “Have you read ‘All Summer in a Day’?” “By Ray Bradbury?” He nodded. “I love that story,” I said. “My teacher read it to our class in the third grade, and it’s always stuck with me. I remember feeling bad for the girl.” “Yeah, me too.” I thought of Margot, the sad, pale girl in the story who was shut up in a closet and robbed of her time in the sun. A cold shiver ran through my body. “‘Mars Is Heaven!’ is great too,” Rad said after a few moments. “I love that one as well.” By now the stars were coming out one by one like pinpricks through a veil. I let the cool, crisp air into my lungs and tried not to think about small, confined spaces. “There was a book I read when I was a kid,” said Rad. “I can’t recall the title or the author. But it was about parallel worlds. Sometimes I feel like I’m in an alternate universe. Like I switched places with another version of me, and I’m stuck here, in this world. I don’t know if that makes sense.” “It does,” I said. “I feel like that sometimes too.” “You do?” I nodded. “Absolutely.” “I suppose it’s like being a character in a book. The author has this idea of where the story line is going, and she sets up her characters accordingly. But it changes as she goes, right? All of a sudden, it’s the second draft, and you’re stuck with a different name and a whole other backstory. Then she writes you into an alternate ending. You know, sometimes I get this tiny glimpse of what things were, before the new reality takes over.” “Exactly,” I said. “I know what you mean by a glimpse. It’s more of a feeling.” I frowned. “Well, I don’t know what it is exactly, but it’s something intangible. Which is why it’s so difficult to explain. There is a sense of something else—a different reality altogether—but then you’re snatched up by the present one, and you’re stuck here. I suppose the most obvious comparison is that moment when you wake up from a dream, and there are those first few seconds of adjustment. Only, I think I have felt that while I was wide awake.” “You’ve just described it perfectly,” said Rad. “But the idea is crazy, right? I’m sitting here on this park bench talking to you, and it feels solid and real. But maybe in the original version of this story, we were never here.” “Which means the park bench never existed in the first place.” “Scary thought, huh?” “Yeah,” I said. “But I like your theory—about us being characters in a book.” “Do you think it’s possible?” “I do,” I said. “Then who do you think created us?” “I don’t know. Maybe it’s like one of those mirrored rooms where you see a thousand versions of yourself. Someone created us, someone else created them, and it goes that way in an infinite loop.” “Well, if that’s the case, my creator must be a masochist.” I could tell he was only half joking. My mother was up when I got home later that night. She was standing in the hallway, her face a storm cloud of anger. “It’s two in the morning, Audrey,” she said. “Where the hell have you been?” I opened my mouth to speak, but she held up her hand to stop me. “You know what? I don’t want to hear it. I know it’s going to be lies anyway.” She glared at me, wrapping her sleeping gown tighter around herself. Her voice dropped, but it still retained every bit of its venom. “Everyone at the reception saw you leave with that boy,” she hissed. “Do you have any idea how that looks?” “We were just talking, Mum,” I said, looking down at my feet. “Talking?” she said, raising her voice again. “Until two in the morning? What’s wrong with you, Audrey?” She crossed her arms and sighed loudly. “Ana—your friend—is barely cold in her grave, and you’re trying to get your hands down her boyfriend’s pants.” I looked up at her, furious. “How dare you!” I screamed. “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” “Yes, I do,” she said coldly. “I saw the way you were looking at him. How do you think Duck would feel about that?” “Duck wouldn’t care, Mum.” The words didn’t come out as confidently as I had intended. Until now, I hadn’t even thought about Duck. “He wouldn’t?” she said. “Are you out of your mind, Audrey? I hope you haven’t forgotten that if it wasn’t for Duck, you wouldn’t even be here right now.” Tears sprang to my eyes, but I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of seeing me cry. I pushed past her roughly and was halfway up the stairs when I heard her call after me. “I don’t want you seeing him again. Do you hear me, Audrey? It’s finished.” “Shut up!” I screamed. “You can’t tell me what to do!” I slammed the door shut, anger rising inside me. I took a few deep breaths, willing myself not to cry. It had been such a strange night, and I wanted to collect myself and make sense of what I was feeling. Deep down I knew my mother was right, and I felt a bubble of self-hatred rise to the surface. It was clear to me now that I shouldn’t have left Ana’s house with Rad. But it happened so quickly that neither of us had time to think about the consequences. And now it was too late to turn back. Three Candela caught up with me just as I was walking through the school gate. “Hey, Audrey,” she said, a little out of breath. “What happened last night?” “What do you mean?” I asked. “Well, you left Ana’s house with Rad. Everyone was talking about it.” “How crass.” “People can be assholes,” she agreed. “So, what happened, anyway? You didn’t answer any of my texts last night.” “Sorry,” I said, “I got home really late.” “Really?” She raised an eyebrow. The school bell sounded. “Hey, let’s skip class today,” said Candela. “I can’t. I’ve been falling behind.” “Audrey.” She grabbed my arm. “You look like you need a break. And besides, one day won’t kill you—will it?” A few hours later, we were sitting on the sandy shore of our favorite beach, watching the surfers glide across the waves. It was unusually warm for August, and we were enjoying the rare bits of sunshine that broke intermittently through the gray clouds. Candela passed me a joint, and I took it from her gratefully. “Thanks,” I said. “I really needed this.” “Me too,” she said. “What a god-awful week it’s been.” I held the end of the joint to my lips, drawing the smoke into my lungs. “Go easy, Audrey. You know that stuff can make you weird.” I nodded, handing it back to her. She took a couple of quick puffs and then stubbed the joint out on the sand. I watched as she placed the rest of it carefully into a pillbox. “I know I shouldn’t have left with Rad last night.” “I thought you didn’t know each other. I mean, one minute you were asking who he was, and then the next thing we knew, Lucy said the two of you left together. So what happened?” “Well, I was feeling anxious,” I looked at her. “You know . . .” Candela nodded. Her mother suffered from panic attacks, and she knew I had started having them. I took a deep breath. “So I went outside for some air, and Rad was there, on the back porch. We talked for a little bit, and then the fight broke out and we left.” “God, the fight,” Candela’s face was suddenly animated. “Did you see what happened?” “I missed most of it.” “It was nasty. Ana’s uncle turned up a bit drunk. He walked right up to Ana’s dad and hit him. Really hard too!” “Yeah,” I said softly. “Not that the bastard didn’t deserve it,” she added. I remained quiet. “You know, I can’t believe the police haven’t arrested him yet. I mean, you’re the one who saw them through the window with their clothes off and going at it, so maybe you should speak to the cops.” My heart leapt to my throat, and it was on the tip of my tongue to tell Candela the truth—that I had made it all up and Ana’s dad was innocent. I opened my mouth, but the words wouldn’t form. I felt panic grip me like a vice. “Audrey, are you okay? Oh shit, I shouldn’t have said anything.” Candela put her arm around me, stroking my back as I struggled to get my breathing under control. “God, I’m such an idiot,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m so sorry, babe.” “It’s okay,” I said, between quick, ragged breaths. She kept her hand on my back, rubbing in a slow circular motion. It took awhile before I began to feel okay again. “I saw Ana the day before it happened, you know,” Candela said. “Just when the rumor was turning into a shit storm. I know I promised you I wouldn’t say anything to her, but I had this really strong feeling that I should. Now I wish I had.” She bit her lip and began drawing arbitrary shapes in the sand with her fingertips. “I mean, she was my friend, and I let her down. I don’t know if I can ever get past that, you know?” “I’m so sorry, Candela.” I could feel my throat tightening up again. “This is all my fault.” “No, it’s not. Don’t ever say that. You had no idea that Eve was listening at the door.” “I should never have said anything,” I said, my voice dropping to a whisper. “Hey.” She let out a sigh. “Come on . . . let’s just—fuck it. Let’s not talk about Ana anymore. Okay? Tell me about Rad. How was he last night?” “He was okay,” I said. “I think he just needed someone to talk to. Maybe someone who didn’t know Ana.” “I get that. Really I do. Did he say anything about Ana?” “No,” I said, with a shake of my head. “He didn’t want to talk about her.” Candela nodded. “To be honest, I don’t blame him. It messes me up, thinking about it. I’d rather think about anything else.” “Same. But I know it must be a million times worse for you, because you were always close to her.” “Yeah,” said Candela. A shadow seemed to pass over her face. “We had some great times.” We were quiet, lost in our own thoughts. “Are you going to see Rad again?” “I don’t know. Mum went completely feral when I got home last night.” “You should have seen her at the reception when Lucy told her you left with Rad.” A tiny laugh escaped from her lips. “She was livid.” Candela and my mother were mortal enemies. I smirked. “Anyway, she has forbidden me from seeing him.” “She forbids you from seeing me,” Candela pointed out. “Yet here we are.” “It’s kind of messy. I mean, I’m not sure Duck would be keen on the idea.” Candela rolled her eyes. “Duck is way too possessive. You know I adore him, but the guy needs to lighten up.” “He can be a little moody sometimes, but he’s a really good guy. Besides, I’m probably the last thing Rad needs right now.” “Or,” said Candela, giving me a long, meaningful look, “you could be exactly what he needs.” I arrived home late that afternoon to the smell of chicken soup wafting through the house. My mother came out of the kitchen, undoing her apron and sliding it over her head. “Oh good, you’re home. I was going to take some chicken soup over to Duck, but you can if you want to.” “Okay,” I said. I followed her into the kitchen, putting my school bag down on a chair. She ruffled through the cupboards and found an old thermos. After rinsing it in the sink, she carefully spooned in the soup with a ladle and screwed it shut tight. She wiped at the sides with a cloth and then handed it to me. “Here,” she said. I tucked the thermos under my arm and set out on the short walk to Duck’s house. Duck’s mother, Zoe, answered the door on the third knock. “Audrey!” she said, smiling brightly. “Come in.” She opened the door wider and I followed her inside. Each time I walked through Duck’s front door, I was greeted with a picture of the two of us that Zoe had hung in the entrance of the hallway. We were thirteen, and our mothers had entered us into a local ballroom dancing competition. In the photo, Duck was in a hideous powder-blue suit, and I was wearing a strange sequined dress my mother had sewn for me. It always made me cringe. “How is Duck feeling?” I asked. Zoe rolled her eyes. “You know what he’s like.” “Man flu?” It was a private joke between us. “Exactly,” she laughed. “He’s a bit grumpy, but maybe you can cheer him up.” “I’ll try,” I said, with a weak smile. Duck was sitting up in his bed playing Grand Theft Auto. “Hey,” he said, eyes glued to the screen. “Hi.” I sat down on the edge of his bed and put the thermos on the ground. “I brought Mum’s chicken soup.” “Oh great,” he said, his tone sarcastic. “I’ve been craving chicken-flavored water all day.” “You get so grouchy when you’re sick,” I said, ruffling his hair. “So what’s the story about you leaving with Ana’s boyfriend after the reception?” “God, word travels fast around here,” I mumbled, looking away. He paused his game and put down his controller. “So what’s the story?” I shrugged. “I don’t know. We were just talking. No big deal.” “No big deal? You took off with some guy you’d never even met before, and it’s no big deal?” “His girlfriend just died; I think he just wanted someone to talk to, okay?” I could feel Duck’s eyes boring into me, and I turned to meet his gaze. I could tell by his expression he had been brooding about it all day. He looked a little off-color, and there was a patch of rough stubble on his chin. Despite that, he was still as handsome as ever. His hair was dark brown and scruffy, and his eyes were a dreamy blue. “What did you talk about?” Duck asked. He had always been jealous of me around other boys. “Stuff, I guess. I don’t know. Things that friends usually talk about.” “So you’re friends now?” he said, his tone irate. I glared at him. “I’m allowed to have friends, Duck.” “Sure, next time I’m at a party, I’ll just leave with some random girl and make her my new friend.” “It wasn’t a party,” I said, my voice rising. “It was a funeral.” “What’s the difference?” he challenged. “It’s just different.” “How?” “Oh, forget it. You wouldn’t understand.” “And I suppose he does?” I stood up. “What’s the matter with you?” I said angrily. “We just hung out; it’s not a big deal. His girlfriend just died, and I think that would be the only thing on his mind.” “Right,” said Duck, with a shrug of his shoulders. He looked away. “Whatever.” “Look, you’re just sick and feeling like shit. I get it. But you don’t have to be jealous of Rad.” “So, he has a name.” “Can you stop?” “Stop what?” He looked defiant. “Stop being a jerk about this whole thing. I did nothing wrong, and you know it.” He looked at me for a few moments, a blank expression on his face. Then, he sighed and said in a resigned voice, “Sorry.” “It’s fine,” I said tightly. “It’s just that I’ve been stuck in my room all day, and I hear all this stuff about my girlfriend going off with some guy. How do you expect me to feel?” “It’s not like I planned it, you know. It just happened that way.” I threw my hands in the air and sat back down on the edge of Duck’s bed. He picked up the PlayStation controller and began playing his game again. “So how is he doing, anyway?” “He’s okay, I suppose. I’m sure he and Ana were really close. I mean, I can’t imagine how I would feel if I were in his shoes.” “Me neither,” said Duck quietly. He glanced up at me. “You know, I still can’t get my head around what happened to Ana. She was there last week. She lent me a pen in English class. How can someone go from lending a pen to being dead?” I felt the room spin a little, and I clutched the sky-blue comforter on Duck’s bed. “Do you ever think about not existing?” he continued, missing my sudden bout of anxiety. “I mean, doesn’t the concept terrify you?” “Of course it does.” “I remember when I was twelve. My dad was talking about someone’s kid at work who choked on a piece of apple and died. I think it traumatized me. I mean, I kept obsessing about death after that. To the point where I was sick about it. Like, imagine that. Not being anything.” “It’s a scary thought,” I agreed. “It’s like The NeverEnding Story. You know, how the Nothing starts to take over.” I nodded, thinking back to the day at the lake, my unconscious body settling down among the moss-covered rocks, an audience of tiny fish darting anxiously to and fro. How long would it have taken for my life to ebb away? What if Duck didn’t find me on the second dive down? What if it had been the third, the fourth? Would it have been too late? If Duck hadn’t saved me that day, would Ana still be here? I looked at Duck, his eyes fixed to the screen. Sirens and radio static boomed from the television set. A car chase was under way. I tried to imagine how I would feel if the shoe was on the other foot and Duck had left Ana’s funeral with another girl. I felt nothing—not even a pang of jealousy. Was it because he never gave me reason to doubt his feelings for me? Why was he always doubting mine? “So,” he said, casting a sidelong glance at me, “are you going to keep hanging out with this new friend of yours?” I stood up, my fists clenched tightly at my sides. “Look, stop trying to pick a fight with me, okay? I’ve been having a rough time lately; you know that.” “Audrey, you were never that close to Ana,” he pointed out. “I mean, Candela seems to be handling this better than you, and they were really close.” “Hey,” I said defensively. “Some kid you didn’t even know died from choking on a piece of fruit, and it messed you up, so maybe this is the same thing for me.” He was quiet for a few moments. “I guess,” he said finally. “Anyway, I should head back before it gets dark.” “Okay.” “Are you going to school tomorrow?” Duck and I were both in our final term at Barrett, one of the few co-ed private schools in North Sydney. It was a short bus ride from Three Oaks and where most families in our town sent their kids. “I think I’ll be fine by tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll pick you up in the morning.” “Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow.” Later that night, I was lying in bed when I overheard a conversation between my parents. “I think it’s time we send her to see someone.” “Do you really think that’s necessary?” “Well, she’s barely eating and those mood swings . . .” “I don’t know what has gotten into her . . .” “For Chrissake, Edwina, her friend just slit her wrists.” “They weren’t exactly close.” “They’ve known each other since they were kids. Ana’s been around here plenty.” The conversation continued, but it began to rain and their words were lost to the soft drumming sound on the roof. I sighed and reached over to turn on my reading lamp. I propped myself up with some pillows and took the half-read copy of My Sweet Audrina from the nightstand. A few hours later, I was on the final chapter when my phone beeped with a text message. It was Rad. Are you up? I texted back. Yeah Can’t sleep? No Me too. Want to go for a drive? I checked the time. It was almost two in the morning. Now? Yeah. I thought about it. My parents would murder me if they knew, but it wasn’t the first time I had snuck out in the middle of the night. “Screw it,” I muttered under my breath. I felt a small, unexpected thrill at the thought of seeing him again. Okay, I texted back. See you outside your house in 10. Rad was parked outside when I closed the front door as quietly as I could and made my way quickly to his car. “Hey,” he said, as I slid into the passenger seat. “Hey.” He pulled away from the curb and turned into the next street. “Where are we going?” “Actually, there is something I need to do, and I was hoping you could help me.” “What is it?” “Ana had this gold necklace she was really attached to. It was a gift from her parents . . .” Rad shifted gears and pulled over onto the side of the road. He dug into his jean pocket and drew out a gold chain with a heart-shaped locket attached. I recognized it at once. I was sitting at my desk in class one day, with the teacher droning on about algebra, when a glimmer of light caught my eye. Outside, a ray of sunlight had pierced through the clouds, briefly illuminating a gold necklace around Ana’s neck like a wink. With lazy curiosity, I had noticed a dent at the center of the heart-shaped locket. “I always wondered why that dent was there,” I said. “Her puppy, Starflash, chewed on it,” said Rad. “I think she liked it more because of that. She used to say that the most beautiful things are damaged in some way.” His expression saddened. “Anyway, I found it tonight. She had stuck it in a copy of Brighton Rock, as a bookmark I suppose, and then she forgot about it. We looked for it everywhere, and I kept telling her not to worry, that it would turn up eventually. Tonight, I was putting away some of her stuff in a box, and the locket fell out of the book. I know she would want to have it, so I thought I should return it to her.” It took me a few moments to comprehend what he meant by returning the locket to Ana. “You mean now?” Rad nodded. “You want to go into the cemetery at this hour?” “You don’t have to come if you don’t want to,” he said. “I can take you back home.” “Why don’t you just wait until the morning? Cemeteries are so scary at night.” “I don’t want to leave the necklace on her tombstone, in case someone takes it,” said Rad. “I was thinking of burying it next to her, and that’s not something I want to be doing in broad daylight.” “I suppose you have a point,” I sighed. “So do you want to come?” I thought about it for a few moments. “Okay,” I said finally. He looked relieved. “Thanks, Audrey. To be honest, I didn’t like the idea of going there alone.” I began to regret my decision when Rad turned into the entrance of Woodlands Cemetery, where Ana was buried. As we drove past the weeping willows and tombstones jutting up from the ground like crooked teeth, a feeling of trepidation washed over me. When he came to a stop, I began to feel tiny pins pricking the back of my neck. This was always a bad sign. “Are you okay, Audrey?” said Rad, releasing the catch of his seat belt. “What’s wrong?” “I’m fine,” I said, but my voice came out strangled and my entire body was trembling. “You don’t look fine,” Rad frowned. “Do you want to leave?” I shook my head and frantically felt for the door handle. “I just—need some air,” I gasped. I stumbled out of the car onto the grass, desperately trying to suck air into my lungs. “Audrey!” Rad had materialized at my side. “It’s okay; calm down.” I felt his hand on my shoulder. I brushed it away. “Don’t tell me to calm down!” I snapped, feeling disorientated. “I’m sorry,” he said, taking a step back. My hands had turned numb, and I shook them furiously as I paced up and down the grassy field. I must have looked like I was having a mental breakdown, but I didn’t care. All I could focus on was the horrible thing that had taken possession of my body. I was desperate to get back in control again. “What can I do?” I heard Rad say, through the fog clouding my brain. “I’ll be okay,” I panted. “Just—just give me a minute. Please.” A few moments later, I was starting to feel a little better. I glanced at Rad, standing there with a look of worry etched across his face. “Are you all right?” I nodded. “I’m sorry.” “Don’t be.” “Sometimes it feels like—like there’s a boa constrictor around my body and it’s squeezing every last atom from my lungs. I don’t know how else to explain it.” I drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “You don’t have to explain,” he said, and somehow I sensed that I didn’t. “Thanks.” I gave him a tight smile. “Hey, why don’t you just wait in the car while I go and do this?” “No.” I shook my head. “I’ll come with you.” Ana’s tombstone was barely visible beneath all the cards, decaying bouquets, and other tokens of grief. A full moon hung in the sky like a Chinese lantern, and though I was grateful for the light, my mind kept playing random scenes from horror movies in a sinister montage. Rad had brought a small trowel like the ones my mother used when she was gardening. He got onto his knees at the foot of Ana’s grave, and with the sharp point of the metal, he carefully cut out a small patch of grass. He put the grass to one side and began digging at the fresh soil. I sat down next to him cross-legged and watched. My mind shot to my panic attack earlier. I thought he wouldn’t want anything to do with me, that he would think I was a freak. But he didn’t seem to mind or make an issue of it, and I liked him more because of that. “You know, I used to hear stories about kids who hung out at cemeteries in the middle of the night. I never thought in a million years that I’d be one of them,” I said. Rad shook his head. “Me too.” After a few minutes he stopped and stood up, fishing the necklace from his pocket. He looked at it with a mixture of curiosity and sadness. “You know, I’ve never opened it,” he said. “I don’t know what she put in there.” “I’m sure it’s a picture of you.” I stood up and looked at the gold locket cupped in the palm of his hand. He nodded. “I think I should just bury it and walk away.” But there was a hesitancy to his voice. “Maybe Ana would have wanted you to look inside.” Rad seemed to be thinking it over, and then he pried at the edge of the locket with his fingers. It clicked open with little resistance. “It’s not a picture of me,” he said. I leaned in closer to examine the photograph stuck in the heart-shaped frame. “It’s Candela,” I said, looking at him with surprise. “Yeah,” he said. I couldn’t read the expression on his face. Without a word, he snapped the locket back into its original position. Then he dropped to his knees again and placed it slowly into the freshly dug pit. We were silent as he scooped the dirt onto the locket, filling in the void. Then he took the patch of grass and put it carefully back into position, patting it down gently. It looked like we were never here—as though the locket and its mysterious significance had been swallowed up by the earth. Rad glanced at his watch. “It’ll be daylight in a few hours. Let’s get out of here. I know a great place where we can watch the sun come up.” Four It was a dreary, downcast day. I was riding to the bus stop in Mum’s car, booked in for my first appointment with a psychologist just before noon. Mum had been grilling me about Rad since breakfast and hadn’t let up. “I’m only trying to stop you from making a huge mistake, Audrey,” she said as she pulled up at the bus stop. “You’ll thank me one day.” She adjusted the rearview mirror to catch her reflection before smearing bright red lipstick across her lips. “Mum, I’m not seeing Rad anymore,” I lied. “Can you please just drop it?” After we left the cemetery that night, Rad took me to an old lighthouse at Widow’s Cove. It stood at the end of a battered wharf and wasn’t much taller than a lamppost. We climbed up a rickety ladder and onto a balcony edged with thin metal railing. It was still dark, and the moon—large and glowing—threw a pale shimmer of light across the water. That night, we talked the way old friends do, with candor and ease. We were still deep in conversation when the sun announced its arrival with an astonishing flourish of orange and pink. “Well, the damage has already been done.” My mother’s voice, always on the verge of hysteria, drove a wedge into my thoughts. “I was in the grocery store the other day, and I heard the Baker sisters gossiping about it in the next aisle.” “That’s because they’re assholes, Mum. I can’t live my whole life worrying about every damn thing people are saying about me.” “No, you can’t. But in the future, you can try to be a little more considerate. Imagine how Duck feels, you taking off with some guy.” “We just talked; that’s all. And Duck knows that. Rad needed a friend that night, and I was there for him. You’re just trying to turn it into something that it’s not. Maybe you’re projecting your own guilt onto me,” I said, my words coming out in a rush before I could lose my nerve. Her eyes narrowed. “What are you talking about?” “You know exactly what I’m talking about. What you did to Dad.” Her face turned an ugly shade of red. “How dare you,” she hissed. “That happened years ago. Your dad has gotten past it. You’re the only one who won’t let it go.” “Well, what choice did he have?” I spat at her. “At least we kept your dirty little secret to ourselves.” As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew I had gone too far. “Get out!” she screamed. “You ungrateful brat. Get out now.” I got out of the car as quickly as I could, slamming the door behind me. As the bus pulled away from the stop, I sat in my seat pinching hard at the skin between my knuckles. I took a deep gulp of air through my mouth and exhaled slowly. Feeling self-conscious, I looked up to see whether anyone noticed how jittery I was. But the bus was crowded, and all the riders looked like they were in their own worlds. My mother had a way of making everything seem ten times worse than it actually was. She watched me like a hawk, scrutinizing every move I made, looking for an opportunity to call me out. When I was thirteen, she came to pick me up at a birthday party. She caught sight of a cake stain on my new dress and yelled at me in front of all my friends. Though it was years ago, the humiliation I felt that day remains fresh in my mind. As the bus continued, starting and stopping in the heavy morning traffic, I reached into the pocket of my jeans and fished out the crumpled piece of bright yellow paper my dad had given me the night before. Ida Summers & Associates 24 Sentinel Street, Cremorne Ida Summers was a name already familiar to me. I heard it dropped every so often in the school playground, like a status symbol. She had a reputation for treating damaged adolescent girls. It was strange. The words “panic attack” were thrown around so often that I used to think nothing of it, applying the expression to the most trivial things. But now whenever I heard it, my stomach turned itself into knots. I used to be bulletproof, and I didn’t even know it. Describing a panic attack to someone who has never experienced one is impossible. However, to one who has, no explanation is needed. You just have to say the word “anxiety,” and their eyes would light up with a knowing look. A mixture of “Welcome to the club” and “I know it sucks, but at least you’re not alone.” The other night I was watching a movie when, midway through, it went out of sync. As the actors spoke, their words no longer matched up with the movement of their lips. I picked up the remote and tried the pause button. When that didn’t work, I tried to restart the movie, hoping it would fix the problem. In the end I gave up and just stopped watching it altogether. That was when the realization hit me; that out-of-sync feeling is exactly what anxiety is. Only, imagine it is not on a movie screen but in your brain. The worst thing is you have no control over it. There is no fix. You have to wait until things begin to feel normal again, but when you’re in that state of mind, you can’t tell if it ever will. And that’s what makes it so terrifying. I arrived at the clinic twenty minutes before my appointment. I was still in a bad frame of mind from the argument with Mum earlier. I tried my best not to think about it. The building was a two-story brick terrace house next to a row of boutiques, a mini shopping mart, and a secondhand book store. I pushed through the wrought iron gate and made my way up the concrete footpath to the bright red door. To my right was an intercom next to a rectangular plaque that read Ida Summers, along with two other names I didn’t recognize. I pushed the red button labeled Call. I heard a burst of static, and a female voice, almost childlike, came on. “Hello?” “Hi, it’s Audrey for my eleven-o’clock appointment with Ida,” I said into the speaker. “Wonderful, come in.” There was a buzzing sound followed by a click as I pushed the door open. I walked into a small reception room and was greeted by a petite lady dressed in a gray pantsuit. “Hello,” she said smiling at me from behind her desk. “Is this your first time with Ida?” “Yes, it is.” She stood up and began riffling through a filing cabinet before pulling out a piece of paper. “Can you please fill this out?” “Sure,” I replied, taking the form from her tiny hands. “Audrey?” I heard as I was flicking through a magazine. When I looked up, I saw a lady in her early thirties standing by the doorframe. Her inky black hair was cut into a sharp bob, and a pair of tortoiseshell glasses framed her china-doll features. “Yes.” “I’m Ida,” she said with a smile. “Come with me.” I followed her up a narrow flight of steps and through a wood paneled door. Ida’s office was small and stark, the furniture sparse. It was almost monochromatic, with eggshell walls and abstract art; geometric patterns flourished and faltered within frames of brushed aluminum. A neat row of certificates were displayed on an otherwise bare wall proclaiming to Ida’s numerous areas of expertise. A tall, narrow window positioned behind a solid oak desk cast little light into the dimly lit room. “Over here, darling,” she said, waving at a brown leather lounge chair in the center of the room. “You can sit here. Put that shawl over you if you get a bit chilly; I like to have the window open. You can smoke in here if you want.” “It’s okay; I don’t smoke,” I said, settling myself into the lounge. “Wonderful to hear, love; I wouldn’t recommend it,” she said with a quick, throaty laugh. “Though you don’t mind if I do?” “No, I don’t mind,” I replied. She drew a cigarette from a silver case and lit it with a fluorescent pink Zippo. She took a long drag and sighed with pleasure, blowing the smoke out the window. Then sitting at her desk, she regarded me carefully. “You’re a pretty one,” she said. “How old are you—sixteen? Seventeen?” I pulled the dark blue shawl across my body. “Turning eighteen. It’s my birthday in a few days.” “Well, happy birthday in advance!” she said brightly. “Are you comfortable, dear?” “Yes, thanks.” “Any plans for your big day?” “No, not yet.” “Anything you’re hoping for?” Rad’s face filled my mind in the same way a camera lens brings a blurry image sharply into focus. I felt a tug of longing in my chest—one quickly replaced with a wave of guilt. “No, not really,” I lied. She gave me a thoughtful look. “So,” she said with a smile, “tell me what brings you here.” I shrugged. “My parents, I suppose. They think I have issues.” “And how do you feel about that?” she asked. “I don’t know. Mum drives me crazy.” “She does?” “Yeah, she’s always on my case. We had a huge argument just this morning.” “Oh?” said Ida, taking another drag of her cigarette. “What was it about?” “It’s a long story,” I mumbled, looking away. “Well, we have almost an hour to kill.” I smiled in spite of myself. “She cheated on my dad a few years back. I don’t like thinking about that period in our family’s history.” “And that’s the reason why you were arguing? About something that happened years ago?” “No, not really. Once in a while I bring it up.” “As a weapon against her?” “Only when I want to go nuclear. I know it’s wrong.” “So what was the argument really about?” I shook my head. “Something stupid, I don’t know.” “About a boy?” she guessed. I was about to deny it, but I could see from her expression that I had given myself away. “It’s so cliché, isn’t it?” “There’s a reason why things in this world turn into clichés. It’s because they’re common,” she said with a smile. “So does this boy have a name?” “His name is Rad. It’s a messy situation.” “Why?” “I met him at a funeral—he’s Ana’s boyfriend.” After a short pause I added, “She’s a girl I went to school with. It was her funeral.” “Oh,” said Ida. “What happened to Ana?” “She took her own life.” I bit down on my lip and looked away. “I see,” she said, with a heavy sigh. “What a terrible tragedy.” She stubbed out her cigarette on a red heart-shaped ashtray, her eyes meeting mine. “So, you’re feeling guilty about your attraction to Ana’s boyfriend?” “Yeah,” I said, twisting the tassel ends of the blue shawl around my forefinger. “Plus, to complicate matters, I have a boyfriend too. His name is Duck.” “How long have you known him?” “Since forever.” “And how do you feel about him?” “Well, he’s like family to me. He lives just down the street, and our mothers are best friends. Duck’s been there for every birthday, every Christmas, practically every milestone in my life. I suppose it was a natural thing, for us to wind up together.” “How long have you been an item?” “Since we were fourteen. He saved my life.” Her eyes widened. “He did?” I nodded. “I had an accident, down by the lake. I almost drowned, but he saved me. After that, I suppose I felt like . . .” I paused. “Like you were in some way indebted to him?” My mind shot back to that night I snuck into Duck’s bedroom. Up until then, there was a firm line drawn, at least for me. Until he pulled me from the bottom of that lake, from certain death, I thought of him as a friend and nothing more. Although I never said it out loud, I did wonder from time to time whether we would have been a couple if I had never gone to the lake that day. “When someone saves your life, I suppose you do feel a sense of obligation.” I frowned. “Not that I don’t love Duck; I just feel like we don’t have anything in common.” She nodded. “And do you know how he feels about you?” “Duck has this fixed idea in his mind about the two of us. He’s studying law next year like he always planned, and once he gets his degree, he wants to settle down.” “What do you think about his plan?” “I think it’s something I always went along with because it was so far off in the future that it didn’t feel real to me. Now that it’s getting closer, I feel panicky about it. I don’t want that life. Maybe I did once, but since I met Rad, it feels like there’s a whole other dimension.” I paused and chewed on the tip of my thumb. “It’s almost like there was only an up and down before him, but now I have discovered you can also go sideways too. Does that make any sense?” Ida nodded. “Actually, it makes perfect sense.” She reached across her desk and grabbed a notepad and pen. “It’s clear you’re going through a tough time,” she continued. “Are you in your final year at school?” “Yeah.” “So you have your upcoming exams to deal with too.” She gave me a sympathetic look. “No wonder you’re finding it difficult to cope.” “I am. Everything seems to be happening all at once.” “You poor thing,” said Ida as she scribbled something on her notepad. “Were you close to Ana?” “No, but my best friend, Candela, was really close to her.” “And how is she doing?” “I’m not sure,” I frowned. “She seems to be okay, which is weird. I thought she would be a lot worse.” “Everyone grieves in their own way.” “I suppose.” “And your problems began only recently?” Ida asked. “After Ana’s death? How did you feel, when you heard the news?” “Shocked at first. Numb, if anything.” I felt a chill go down my spine, and I pulled the blue shawl tighter around my body. “But later that night—well, it was weird. I had this sensation I’ve never experienced before. It was like . . . my mind was being pulled from my body. That’s the only way I can explain it. I thought I was going crazy. I’ve been looking up the symptoms online, and I think it was a panic attack.” Ida nodded. “I would say that’s what it was. Have you had another one since?” “Yes, and I feel like I’m always on the verge of one. Do you think it will keep happening?” “It’s likely.” The look she gave me was almost apologetic, and my heart sank. “The worst thing is the constant anxiety.” “I know, darling,” she said. “The worrying is a vicious cycle. Most people tend to think themselves into full-blown panic attacks. But I have something that might help you.” She reached into her drawer and pulled out a small glass jar containing a cluster of rubber bands. She unscrewed the cap, fished one out, and came around to where I was sitting, handing the piece of brown elastic to me. I gave her a bemused look as I took it from her outstretched hand. “Slip that onto your wrist,” she said. I did what she asked. “Good girl.” Without warning, she pinched the elastic with her thumb and forefinger, pulled it right back, and then let it go. “Ouch!” I cried, as the sharp sting of rubber bit into my skin. I pulled my hand away from her. “What the hell?” “Sorry, honey. You see, when you find yourself getting into a cycle of worry, that sharp ping snaps you out of your own head. It’s a way to ground you and bring you back to reality.” “Oh,” I said softly. I began to see the logic behind the idea and was filled with a spark of hope. Maybe this will work. “When you start to feel anxious, pull the rubber band back and snap it against your skin. That should ease the anxiety.” “Okay, I’ll give it a go.” “Good.” She glanced at the clock on the wall. “Looks like time is up, sweetie.” “Already?” I said, surprised. She nodded as I stood up. “Is there anything else you want to ask me?” I shook my head. “I can’t think of anything.” “Remember, Audrey,” said Ida, her eyes looking straight into mine, “you can say whatever you want here. Nothing leaves this room, okay?” I wanted to tell her about the lie right then and there, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. “Okay,” I said, looking down at my feet. “I’ll see you again next week, honey. Same time? Gloria will send a text the day before to remind you.” Five I wasn’t in a celebratory mood when my birthday came round the following week. It fell on a school day, and my friends organized a short message that was broadcasted over the loudspeaker at school. That night, my parents presented me with a simple chocolate mud cake, and when I blew out the candles, I thought of Ana. Later, Lucy and Candela came by and we drove out to Blues Point Park, a local hangout, with a bottle of Sailor Jerry vodka and a six-pack of Red Bull. “Swig and sip session,” Candela declared. Lucy was the designated driver as usual. She was the responsible one among the three of us, and she also owned a car. It was a bottle-green Mini nicknamed Octopus One. Lucy had a habit of naming inanimate objects. After we left Octopus One parked on a quiet side street, we walked through a dense area of shrubbery and found our regular spot, under a large elm tree. Lucy spread out her old fraying tartan rug, and we sat down, breathing in the cool night air. Candela uncapped the vodka and took a long swig. She passed it to Lucy, who shook her head. “I hate vodka,” she said. “Besides, how do you think you’re getting home tonight?” She took out a Red Bull and flicked back the tab as Candela passed the vodka to me. I took a couple of gulps and waited for the liquid to warm me. The city lights of Sydney sparkled in the distance. We sat in silence for a time, lost in our own thoughts. Pretty soon the vodka was working its magic, and I began to feel buoyant and light, like nothing was really as bad as I thought. I began telling Lucy and Candela about my meeting with Ida. “I heard she’s the best,” said Lucy, yawning and stretching herself out on the rug with my lap as her pillow. “She gave me this rubber band.” I held my left wrist up, pulling the sleeve of my sweater back. “I’m supposed to snap it when I get anxious.” “Seriously? No meds?” asked Candela. She gave me a disappointed look. “Nope. Just this shitty rubber band.” For some reason, we all found this wildly funny and broke into hysterics. Then we took turns trying on the rubber band and flicking it against each other’s skin. “Ow! That really hurts!” cried Lucy. “Only because you’re sober,” I teased. Still wincing, Lucy handed the rubber band to me, and I slipped it back onto my wrist. “I’m still not talking to my mother,” Candela said suddenly. We knew at once what she was referring to, and the mood turned sober. “I can’t believe she couldn’t keep her goddamn mouth shut about Ana.” “Yeah,” I said quietly, and suddenly everything was bad again. “Well, I’ve had enough. That was the last straw. I’m moving out next week.” “You are?” Lucy sat up. “Yeah. Honestly, I’m so over her shit. No wonder my dad walked out on her.” She reached into the side pocket of her backpack and pulled out a fresh pack of Marlboro Lights and a tin of Jelly Bellys. “I’m going to rent a place in Alexandria.” “Alexandria,” said Lucy. “Isn’t it a bit dicey down there?” “It’s fine,” said Candela with a shrug. “I met my flatmates yesterday. They seem nice.” She passed the Jelly Bellys to me. I shook out a handful and passed the tin on to Lucy. “What are your roommates like?” I asked. “Well,” said Candela, “there are two of them.” She pulled out a cigarette and lit it. “There’s Ramona, who is so punk. She works in a record shop and has a stack of piercings and tattoos.” Candela took a quick drag before shoving the pack of cigarettes back into her bag. Turning her head, she blew the smoke away from us. “And the other one is Ally. She’s kind of bookish and is studying business at Sydney U.” Candela must have caught the look I exchanged with Lucy because she quickly said, “As far as I can tell, the two do not get along. I peeked inside their fridge and half the stuff in there is labeled ‘Ally.’ How anal can you be?” “Anal Ally,” I said, and we all burst into laughter. “Are you going to have a housewarming party?” asked Lucy. “Yes and you’re both coming to celebrate my emancipation.” “Sure,” I said, “count us in.” Lucy’s ringtone—which was set to the shower scene from Psycho—rang loudly from her purse. “Jesus Christ, Lucy!” Candela jumped. “You’ve got to change your stupid ringtone.” Lucy stuck her tongue out at Candela and fished the phone from her purse. “Babe?” She said, holding it up to her ear. There was a pause. “You’re breaking up; I can’t hear you . . . Yeah, we’re at Blues Point. What? You’re almost here? Oh good. Okay. He is? Yeah.” She laughed. “Okay, see you soon.” “Freddy’s on his way here,” Lucy said, tucking the phone back into her purse. “Also, Rad is coming too.” “Rad?” I said, surprised. “That’s okay, isn’t it?” “I suppose,” I said, picking at a piece of cotton thread that had come loose from the picnic rug. “Is Duck coming tonight?” Candela asked. “No, his friend is sick, so Duck had to cover for him. But he’s taking me out somewhere tomorrow to make up for it.” Duck worked as a delivery driver at Kappys, the local pizzeria. “That shitty flu is still going around,” said Candela. “I should drag my lazy ass to the doctor and get my shots.” “Does Duck know you went to the cemetery with Rad the other night?” asked Lucy. “You went to the cemetery with Rad?” Candela asked. “When did this happen?” “A few nights ago.” Lucy was the only person I had told about that night, although I left out the part where Rad and I found Candela’s picture in Ana’s locket. “Why didn’t you tell me you met up with him again?” said Candela. She looked hurt. “I don’t know.” I wasn’t sure why I didn’t tell Candela about that night. I told her everything. Even more than Lucy. When I was a little girl, my dad and I had a code. The rule was if I said the words “yellow submarine,” he wasn’t allowed to get mad at me, no matter what I said next. It was like a safe zone, where I was free to confess anything without consequence. With Candela, that code was something unspoken between us. I could tell her anything, and I knew she would never judge me. But I couldn’t tell her about that night because her photo had been in Ana’s locket, which meant there was something she was keeping from me. “So what happened?” Candela asked. “They went to visit Ana in the dead of night to return her necklace,” said Lucy. “The gold one with the heart-shaped locket?” said Candela. She had an odd look on her face. I nodded. “Rad said she was really attached to it.” “She was,” said Candela quietly. “I’m glad she got it back.” “I still can’t believe you went into the cemetery at night,” Lucy shuddered. “It was really creepy. Your eyes keep playing tricks on you.” “I can imagine,” said Lucy. My eyes were riveted to Candela’s face. She looked like she was lost in her own world. I knew my friend better than anyone. I could tell she knew her picture was in Ana’s locket. Lucy followed my gaze. “Are you okay, sweetie?” she asked Candela. Candela’s head snapped up. “Of course I am. Why wouldn’t I be?” “Just asking, jeez,” said Lucy, taken aback. Candela quickly gathered herself. “Sorry, Lucy,” she said with a small shake of her head. She leaned in and gave her an apologetic peck on the cheek. Then she turned her attention to me. “So what else did you guys get up to?” “We went to the lighthouse at Widow’s Cove and just talked for the rest of the night.” “What did you talk about?” Candela probed. I shrugged. “Don’t know—stuff.” I couldn’t tell either Lucy or Candela that our conversation had centered around the locket. Rad said he suspected Ana had been involved with someone else before her death. Candela and Ana were always good friends, but they had grown especially close in the last year. Had their friendship blossomed into something more? “So I’m guessing Duck doesn’t know anything about that night?” said Lucy. I shook my head. “No, and it stays between the three of us. Okay?” They nodded in agreement. “Before we forget!” said Candela reaching into her backpack again. “We got you something.” “You did?” “Yes!” Lucy’s face was suddenly animated. “I almost forgot.” After rummaging round in her bag, Candela pulled out a package wrapped in red cellophane and finished with a black ribbon bow. “Thanks, guys!” I said, taking the present from her outstretched hands. “It’s something Lucy and I came across at that store in Crows Nest—you know, the one that sells vintage stuff. As soon as we spotted it, we thought of you. It has your name on it—literally.” I tore open the package to find a stunning cream-colored jacket made of the softest suede. It was lined in blood-red satin with a tag stitched into the neckline, bearing my name. “See? It’s an Audrey jacket,” said Lucy. “Must be some old, obscure label.” “The label pretty much sealed the deal,” said Candela. “I mean, how perfect is that?” “It’s gorgeous!” I pulled off my sweater and put the jacket on. “It fits like a glove,” said Lucy happily. “It was made for you.” “I love it! I’m going to wear it all the time!” In the distance, we heard voices, and then two figures emerged from behind the shrubbery. “Freddy!” Lucy got up and raced over to him. She threw her arms around him, and he picked her up, swinging her through the air. The trio walked toward us as Candela and I stood up. “Happy birthday, Audrey,” said Freddy, putting his arm around my shoulders. “Rad decided to tag along; I hope you don’t mind.” I shook my head. “Not at all.” Rad smiled at me. “Happy birthday, Audrey.” “Thanks.” We proceeded to arrange ourselves awkwardly on the picnic rug like a game of Twister. I wound up sitting between Rad and Lucy. “Sheesh, I can’t believe it’s already your birthday. That means our exams are just around the corner,” said Lucy. “Don’t remind me,” I groaned. The thought of all the years of my education culminating in one crucial point was nothing short of terrifying. “Hey, Rad, aren’t you studying journalism at Charles Sturt?” He nodded. “Yeah, but I’ve decided to take the rest of this year off. I don’t go back until next February.” Lucy turned to me. “Isn’t that the course you were looking at, Audrey? Wouldn’t it be funny if you both wound up at the same campus?” “It’s in my top three, but it depends on how I score on my exams,” I said. “Plus, I’m still thinking about whether or not to take a gap year. We’ve always talked about the three of us traveling through Europe. Remember the pact we made about sunbathing topless in Ibiza?” “Well, I’m definitely tagging along for that,” said Freddy as Lucy gave him a sharp jab in the ribs. “That was before we had any concept of money,” said Candela with a sigh. “I sure don’t have the funds to travel anytime soon.” “I probably would have taken a gap year if I could do things over,” said Rad. “I mean, I like the course I’m doing so far, but I don’t know if I want to be a journalist.” “That’s the crazy thing. How can they just expect us to know what we want to do with the rest of our lives when we’re fresh out of school? I mean, it’s not like flicking a switch,” I said. “Well, I’m sure enjoying my gap year so far,” said Freddy, a Cheshire cat grin on his face. “Other than the fact my parents are going a bit nuts and I still have no idea what I’m going to do next year.” “How about clown college?” Lucy suggested. Candela snorted. Freddy grinned at Lucy. “Only if you want to be my assistant, babe.” “You’re thinking about magicians; clowns don’t have assistants.” “That’s not true. What about Sideshow Bob?” “Hey! I’m no sidekick!” Lucy protested. “I want us to be a power couple like Bill and Melinda. You know, that ‘us against the world’ mentality.” Lucy and Freddy continued their back and forth exchange for the next few minutes as we looked on with a mixture of amusement and envy. When they got started like this, it was as though there was no one else in the world. “Hey, it looks like someone’s coming over,” Candela said suddenly. We turned our heads in unison to see a light shining through the shrubbery. A few moments later, a figure appeared, holding a pizza bag in one hand and a flashlight in the other. “It’s Duck,” I said, getting up and walking over to meet him. “Hey, I thought you had to work tonight.” He grinned. “I managed to sneak away for a bit. Couldn’t miss seeing my girl on her special night.” He switched off his flashlight and latched it to his belt before taking my hand in his. We began strolling back to the group when he stopped abruptly. “Who’s that guy sitting near Lucy?” “That’s Rad,” I said, biting down on my lip. This wasn’t going to go down well. “Rad? What the fuck is he doing here?” “I didn’t know he was going to be here,” I said truthfully. “Freddy brought him.” He gave me a dubious look. “Well, it’s your party. You can invite anyone you want.” “I didn’t invite him. He came with Freddy!” “Sure, Audrey,” he said, looking unconvinced. “Look, everyone’s staring at us, Duck. It’s my birthday—can’t we just drop it?” “Fine,” he said, resignation in his voice. Freddy stood up to greet Duck when we reached the group. They locked their palms together the way boys do, playfully combative. Freddy asked, “Have you met my friend Rad?” Rad stood up and stuck out his hand. “Hey, man,” he said. “Hey,” said Duck, shaking Rad’s hand with reluctance. “Did you bring pizza?” asked Lucy. “I’m starving!” She was perpetually hungry. “It’s Audrey’s birthday cake, actually,” said Duck, smiling shyly. With a practiced motion, he withdrew the pizza box from the red bag and passed it to me. I opened it to find a pepperoni pizza crudely fashioned into the shape of a heart. “Extra cheese, just how you like it.” “I love it!” I exclaimed. “Aw, that’s cute,” said Lucy, peering over my shoulder. Duck fished around in his pockets and came up with a handful of candles. I carefully laid the opened pizza box on the picnic rug as he stuck the candles arbitrarily into the fleshy dough. “Anyone got a light?” asked Duck. Candela passed one to him, and he lit up my makeshift birthday cake. “Happy birthday to you,” started Lucy, and everyone else chimed in, singing off-key with their own different renditions about monkeys and zoos. “Hip, hip, hooray!” they chorused as I blew out the candles. “Did you make a wish?” asked Lucy. Without meaning to, my eyes shot involuntarily to Rad—it was like a knee-jerk reaction. I looked away quickly, hoping no one had noticed. “Yeah,” I said to Lucy, “but the wish only comes true if you keep it a secret.” “Okay, everyone, dig in!” said Duck. We all took turns grabbing a slice of pizza. “Mmmm,” Lucy moaned as she took her first bite. “You make the best pizzas, Duck.” “Thanks, Lucy.” We ate the rest largely in silence. “I have an idea. Let’s play truth or dare,” said Candela. “Yes!” said Lucy. I groaned. “Really, Candela?” Duck glanced at his watch. “Good thing I have to get back to work.” “Already?” I said. “Uh-huh. Everyone’s sick with the flu, so we’re really understaffed tonight.” “Oh. I’ll walk you to the car.” “No, you stay here. I’ll see you tomorrow night. Okay?” “Okay.” “See you,” he said and gave a mock salute to the group as we all called out goodbyes. He picked up the red bag, tucked it under his arm, and strolled away into the night. Candela turned to Freddy, her eyes glinting with mischief. “Truth or dare?” “Dare.” “Okay, run up to Duck and give him a goodbye kiss. Quick, before he disappears.” We laughed as Freddy sprung to his feet. “On the lips!” Lucy called out as Freddy raced over to Duck. We watched as Freddy ambushed Duck in the distance and pounced on him. “What the—” we heard Duck cry, as Freddy planted a firm kiss on his lips, while we fell over ourselves laughing. Duck turned and shook his head at us, as Freddy gave him another peck on the cheek before walking back looking victorious. “Well done, babe!” said Lucy. “He’s a great kisser, Audrey. You’re a lucky girl.” I laughed. “Did you get any tongue action?” “A little,” he joked. Freddy sat back down crossed-legged on the rug and turned to face Candela. “Your turn, missy. Truth or dare?” “Uh, truth.” “Who was the first person you had sex with?” “Novak Blackwood.” “Seriously? I thought it was Drew,” I said. “That didn’t count as sex.” “Ah, what exactly constitutes sex for you, Candela?” asked Lucy. She grinned. “You know, the definition they give you at the White House.” “Okay, let’s rephrase that, then: who was the first person you fooled around with?” asked Freddy. Candela thought for a few minutes. “Lisa Sadler.” Freddy’s mouth fell open. “Seriously?” asked Lucy. Candela nodded. “Uh-huh. Fourteen, sleepover, found her dad’s stash of weed. I think we made it to third base.” “Nice,” said Freddy with approval. “It was a fun night,” said Candela with a shrug. She took a gulp of vodka and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “Okay, Audrey, your turn. Truth or dare?” “Truth.” “What did you wish for earlier, when you were blowing out your birthday candles?” “World peace,” I said, batting my eyelashes at her. “That’s my girl,” said Lucy. “She did not wish for world peace,” said Candela. “Okay—Rad’s turn,” I said quickly, eager to move on from the subject. “Truth or dare?” “Truth.” “Who was your first celebrity crush?” “Pamela Anderson,” he shrugged and grinned. I rolled my eyes. “Typical.” “I had a poster of her above my bed.” “In her Baywatch gear?” “No, it was a PETA ad, I think.” Freddy cupped his hands around his mouth like a megaphone. “Nerd!” Rad turned to Lucy. “Truth or dare?” “Dare.” “Okay, you have to call the first person on your contact list and tell them you love them.” “Sure, that’s easy enough,” she said, reaching into her purse for her phone. “But,” continued Rad, “it can’t be a family member or friend.” Lucy froze. “Oh shit. No. No way!” “Yes way!” Candela said, her face lit up with glee. “Yeah, Lucy, rules are rules,” I agreed. She shook her head. “Nah-uh.” Freddy began to make clucking noises at her, moving his elbows in and out in a flapping motion. She glared at him. “Lucy, Lucy,” Freddy began to chant, and we all joined in. “Lucy, Lucy, Lucy.” With a look of dread on her face, Lucy scrolled through her contact list. “Fuck!” “Who is it?” I asked. “Dr. Mahajan, our family GP.” She looked at Rad and shook her head. “Jeez, no way. I can’t do it.” “You can’t back out now, Lucy,” I said. “Come on, babe,” said Freddy. “I had to make out with Duck.” “I am happy to make out with one of you instead.” “Sorry, you’re not going to get off that easy,” Candela said. “Oh shit.” She held her hand up to her forehead. “Shit, shit, shit.” She took a deep breath and dialed his number while we all cheered her on. “Shhhhh,” she waved her hand at us. “Put it on speaker,” I whispered. We all held our breaths as the dial tone echoed through the air. There was an answer on the fifth ring. “Hello?” “Hello, Dr. Mahajan, it’s Lucy—Lucy Locket. Um, Brenda’s kid.” “Oh, hello, Lucy. Everything okay?” “Uh, yeah, there’s something I have to tell you.” “Go on.” “Um—I love you,” Lucy blurted. “I beg your pardon?” “I love you, Dr. Mahajan.” A short pause. “Are you feeling okay, Lucy?” “Yes, I’m fine.” Her lips quivered at the corners as she tried to contain her laughter. “Well, thank you, Lucy. I am very flattered, but I have been happily married for the last thirty years.” “Oh,” said Lucy. “Well, if it doesn’t work out with Mrs. Mahajan . . .” “I’ll be sure to keep you in mind.” “Okay, thanks, Dr. Mahajan.” “Good night, Lucy.” “Oh my God!” she cried when she hung up the phone. She clapped her hand over her mouth. “I can’t believe I just did that!” We all burst into laughter. Freddy gave her a congratulatory pat on the back. “Well done, kiddo.” “Ha,” said Candela. “I love how cool he was about it. Like, ‘Hello, I love you, Dr. Mahajan.’ ‘Okay, Lucy, thanks but no.’” We all broke into laughter again. “I was a victim of the same dare once,” said Rad. “Whom did you have to call?” I asked. “Cameron, my mechanic.” “How did he take it?” “He was pretty cool about it. And he gave me a discount the next time I brought my car in.” “You stud,” said Freddy. “Oh God,” said Lucy, burying her face in her hands. “That reminds me—I have to go in for my flu shot next week. No way I’m doing that now.” “Hey, it looks like we’re out of booze,” said Candela, draining the last of the vodka. “Lucky for you we picked up a six-pack of Coronas on our way here,” said Freddy. “It’s chilling in the trunk of my car,” said Rad. “I’ll go and grab it.” “I’ll come with you,” I said, getting up. We began the short walk to his car. Tonight the moon was barely visible, and I tripped on a loose rock as Rad’s arm shot out to steady me. Without a word, I laced my arm through his and we continued walking. “Hey, Audrey,” he said, when we were out of earshot. “There’s something I need to talk to you about.” “Yeah?” “These past few weeks . . . well, you’ve been really great . . .” There was something in his tone that made my stomach drop. Even though I knew that Rad and I couldn’t keep going down this path forever, I didn’t want it to end just yet. “Okay,” I said and waited for him to continue. “It’s hard to believe it’s only been a few weeks since I’ve met you. I mean, I can talk to you about stuff that I’ve never been able to tell anyone else.” “Me too,” I said. “But we’re friends—we know that. That’s where it starts and ends with us. It’s just—” he frowned. “Everybody is turning it into something else, something it’s not. Your boyfriend looked at me with daggers all night, and to be honest, I don’t blame him. I wouldn’t want some guy hanging around my girlfriend, either. And you know, with Ana—” “Rad, you don’t have to explain. I know what people are saying about us, and I know what we have to do.” He nodded. “It sucks, though, doesn’t it? I really like talking to you.” I felt tears prick the back of my eyes. “So do I.” Soon, we were at his car, and he reached into his pocket for the keys. “Hey,” I said, turning to face him. “Do you think there’s an alternate universe where we didn’t have to worry about all this stuff? Where we could keep hanging out and no one would care?” “Yeah,” said Rad with a smile. “We’re just characters in a book, remember? There are millions of books out there. We could be living all sorts of different lives.” “Which book would you put us in?” He thought about it for a moment. “The Princess Bride.” I laughed. He opened the trunk and rummaged around in the dark. He stopped when he heard the rustle of paper. “Oh, I almost forgot! I got you a present.” “You did?” “Yeah,” he said, handing me a brown paper bag. “I saw it in a shop window and thought of you.” I put my hand in the bag and drew out a hard round object. “It’s a snow globe!” I peered at the miniature scenery of a tiny town set against the backdrop of snowcapped mountains. “Oh, it’s so pretty.” I tipped it upside down then back up again. We watched as the bits of tiny white confetti swirled around the globe. “I remember what you said that day we met, about snowcapped mountains.” “Oh.” I was suddenly overcome with emotion. It felt like the person standing in front of me knew me better than anyone else. On impulse, I took a step toward him, and we put our arms around each other. It felt like the most natural thing in the world. “Thank you,” I said, putting my head on his shoulder. He was wearing a blue-and-white checked shirt that felt both soft and rough against my cheek. My face was inches away from his neck, and I caught the scent of soap and something else that was warm and comforting, like freshly laundered sheets. “You’re welcome. I’m glad you like it.” “I do.” “I hope you’ll find your way there someday, to that little mountain town, and write your book.” “I hope you’ll write yours too.” I pulled away from him reluctantly. “We should get back or they’ll send a search party.” “Okay.” “So this is it then, I guess.” “It feels kind of like a breakup, doesn’t it?” “Yeah, in a weird way it does.” I couldn’t imagine how I would stop myself from calling him, and I sensed he felt the same way. It was a new thing for me, feeling this attached to another person, especially since we’d known each other for such a short time. “Do you think we’ll stick to the plan?” I asked. “The one where we stop talking?” “Uh-huh.” He seemed to think it over. “Have you got your phone on you?” I reached into the pocket of my new Audrey jacket and pulled it out. At the same time, he fished his phone out from the back pocket of his jeans. “Let’s delete each other from our phones.” “Now?” I felt a wave of sadness wash over me. “Yes, on the count of three.” He gave me a sheepish grin. “Otherwise we’d never stick to it. I know I won’t.” “Okay.” “Ready?” I nodded. He began to count. “One . . . two . . . three.” I pressed the delete button on his contact page and looked to see that he had done the same. “You know, I’m really glad I met you, Audrey,” he said, putting his phone away. Tears began to well up in my eyes. I looked away, hoping he wouldn’t notice. “I just wish I had met you sooner,” he continued. “I know.” “Maybe one day we’ll end up at the same campus, like what Lucy said. Things might be different then.” His words gave me a sense of optimism. It sounded like a dream, studying at the same campus as Rad, seeing him every day. And it wasn’t unrealistic. If I did well in my exams, I could be there next year. “I like the thought of that,” I said. Six I brought a bottle of Pinot and a small yellow cactus plant to Candela’s housewarming party. I had stuck googly eyes on the cactus and made him a tiny paper top hat. “He’s sensational!” Candela declared holding him out for everyone to see. “I’m going to name him Reginald.” She set Reginald down on a nearby coffee table and introduced me to the guests. There were a handful of people I knew, and I guessed the rest were friends of the punk flatmate on the account of all the piercings and tattoos. “Ramona!” Candela called out to a girl who was coming down the hallway. She grabbed my arm. “Come and meet my friend Audrey.” Ramona wasn’t her real name. It was Sheila. She had always hated the name, so on her eighteenth birthday she walked straight into the registry and changed it to Ramona. “Look at me,” she said, her large, expressive eyes boring into me. “Do I fucking look like a Sheila?” “Not at all.” I meant it—she looked every inch a Ramona. “What was your name again?” “Audrey.” “Audrey—?” She tilted her head to one side and studied me carefully. “Field.” “Oh, nice,” she said approvingly. “Audrey Field sounds like a writer’s name. Like Charles Bukowski or Virginia Woolf. It’s almost like they were preordained. Do you write?” “Not really.” “Yes, she does!” Candela countered. “She rarely shows her work to anyone, though.” “Well, you’ll be a writer; mark my words. You have the name for it,” she said with an assertive nod. “Although I knew a guy named Brady Leclair. Sounds hot, right?” she asked, looking at us for confirmation. Candela and I both smiled agreeably. “Well, sorry to disappoint ladies, but—” she stuck her fingers in her mouth and made a gagging noise. “Absolute troll and personality to match. Great name, though. I’d fuck that name.” “Ramona’s a riot,” Candela said, “but Ally is a real bore.” We were sitting outside, on the patio steps, while Candela had a smoke. “I don’t think I’ve seen her at all tonight.” I tipped my head up toward the inky black sky. It was a beautiful, clear night, and I could see the cluster of stars that spelled out Sagittarius, my mind projecting the outline of a centaur, arrow poised and ready to launch. I thought about Rad and wondered whether he was thinking of me. “No one ever sees her,” Candela said. “She’s always in her room, with her head in a book. It’s a Saturday night, for Chrissake.” She shook her head. “Anyway, looks like Lucy is still a sick puppy.” “I spoke to her earlier. She sounded awful. I can’t believe that flu is still going around. Duck couldn’t get the night off because there are too many people off sick.” “Oh God, I hope I haven’t caught it. I missed my flu shot this winter,” Candela moaned. “I literally cannot afford to get sick anymore.” She stuffed her cigarette butt into an empty can of Asahi and fished around in her jacket pocket for another one. “I went for a job interview the other day. Beauty assistant.” “Beauty assistant?” I looked at her amused. “You?” “Yeah,” she said with a shrug. “The pay wasn’t too bad.” She held the cigarette between her lips and lit it before taking a drag. Tilting her head up, she blew out the smoke, a little at a time. “The lady who interviewed me was so fucking weird, though. I mean, she made me peel a hard-boiled egg.” “What?” I said. “Yeah, for real. She went off in the back room and returned with this sad-looking egg and told me to peel it.” “And did you?” I asked. “Yeah,” she laughed, “but I butchered it. The whole thing was a mess. Then she pressed her hand to her forehead like this—seriously, Audrey,” she continued when she saw my incredulous look. “She basically said in this whiny bitch voice, ‘Our clients have very delicate skin, and what you just did to that egg’—then she closed her eyes and shook her head like she was so disappointed.” “She had such high hopes for you, Candela,” I said, laughing. The door opened suddenly, and Ramona burst out from behind it. “What are you cocksuckers doing out here?” she shrieked. She was off-balance and clearly wasted. “Dex is getting ready to paint up my tits; you’re missing out on all the fun.” She pouted. “He’s a body painter,” Candela explained, seeing the look of confusion cross my face. “A bloody good one too,” Ramona drawled. “But first I’m going to give him a lap dance.” She began swaying her hips suggestively, looking dangerously unstable. “Not that it’s gonna do anything for him. He’s gay as fuck.” She hooted with laughter just as someone called out to her from inside the house. “I’m coming,” she called. “Hold off on the orgy ’til I get inside.” She shot us a lascivious wink, then blew a kiss in our direction. “Don’t be too long, bitches.” With that, she turned, slamming the door shut. I looked at Candela and raised an eyebrow. “Mum can’t stand her,” she said. “Thinks she’s a bad influence.” “I wonder why she would think that,” I said under my breath. Candela grinned. “Don’t be a smart-ass, Audrey. Ramona can be a little wild, but she’s really nice once you get to know her.” “How is your mum coping with you moving out?” I asked. “She’s pretty pissed about the whole thing,” said Candela. “Especially with exams coming up. Anyway,” she stretched her legs out and sighed, “I’m thinking of quitting school.” “You’re what?” I said, alarmed. “I’ve given it a lot of thought.” “But Candela, school’s over in a few months. You might as well stick it out.” “Yeah,” she said, with another shrug. “But it’s getting to be a pain, you know? I have to get up at seven every morning now, to make the bus. And I’ve taken on all those extra shifts at Lambell too, now that I’m paying rent.” Lambell was an upmarket steakhouse where Candela waitressed. “Why don’t you just move back home for a while? You’ve made your point.” “No way,” said Candela. “I’d rather die than give my mother the satisfaction of seeing me come back.” “Seriously, your mum isn’t that bad. I have to live with mine, and she’s a million times worse.” Candela knew what my mother was like, so she didn’t have a good enough comeback. “Why are you doing this, Candela? I thought you wanted to go to college and do an arts degree or something.” She was quiet for a few moments, and then her face began to crumple. “Candela,” I said, putting my arm around her. “What’s wrong?” “I just can’t d