When the Sky Fell on Splendor Page 1


THE NIGHT OF THE crash started like most had that summer: with the six of us, and one mouth-breathing border collie, crammed into Remy’s clunky Geo Metro, rumbling down Old Crow Station Lane.

The mist was so thick it swallowed the headlights before they could reach the wall of corn on our right or the woods leaning close on our left, and the moisture was hissing off the asphalt like oil in a pan.

Handsome Remy was driving—he was the only one with a car—and Levi rode shotgun, scribbling notes on the script in his lap.

Side by side, the two of them looked more like an oddball pairing from a John Hughes movie than cousins.

Levi was a six-foot-three online shopping addict and wannabe director with a style aesthetic we’d affectionately dubbed “Techni-color Beach Boy” and a coif of reddish hair. He was also brave enough to own a lot of hats.

Remy, meanwhile, was on the shorter side of average with dark, wavy hair and a slim build he kept outfitted in three (seasonal) variations of a Canadian Tuxedo he’d pieced together from thrift stores, then blown out skateboarding. Because the first colors of fall had sneaked into the leaves, he’d swapped out his basic denim jacket for the one with the wool collar, and as if to spite him, Splendor Township was hotter than it had been all summer.

“What does everyone think of the ghost fart joke?” Levi asked, looking up from the script.

Sofía leaned around me to answer. “I vote we cut it.”

“Oh, do you?” Nick teased from the far side of the back seat. “Do you vote that, Supreme Court Justice Perez?”

Teasing was Nick’s primary love language, but Sofía was an essentially perfect human—beautiful, athletic, next year’s likely valedictorian—so the only thing we had to tease her about was that when we’d met her in the seventh grade, she’d announced her intention to study law at Boston University.

She rolled her eyes. “Yes, Nicholas. That’s my vote. Would you care to give yours, or are you part of the forty-three percent of Americans who don’t exercise their political voices?”

Nick shrugged and waved one of his thoroughly tattooed hands. “Fine. The joke’s garbage.” Droog, my family’s near-geriatric dog, sat up in Nick’s lap and licked his cheek, as if to agree. Then she turned and stuck her head out the window, effectively putting her speckled butt in the center of the car and our conversation.

Levi frowned. “Really? I thought it was solid comedy. Franny? What about you?”

“One of the rare situations where your bottomless fount of optimism doesn’t pay off,” I said.

Levi adjusted his bright orange porkpie hat and looked to his cousin. “What about you, Handsome Remy?”

“I’d like to go on the record as still not a fan of that nickname,” Remy said.

The nickname had arisen when a girl in my art class stopped me in the hallway to say, You’re friends with Handsome Remy, right? Could you give him my phone number?

Every couple of months, someone brought it back into popular use. Usually Nick.

“Maybe you should’ve thought of that before you grew out those gorgeous dark locks.” Nick reached forward and flicked Remy’s wool-lined collar. “You’re aware it’s nine hundred degrees, right, dude?”

“Are you aware this isn’t an ICP concert inside a Hot Topic?” Remy said.

“Ohhhhhhhh,” Levi crowed. “Roasted.”

“Roasted?” Nick crossed his tattooed arms over the metal band displayed on his black T-shirt, as if to lean into Remy’s jab. “Sort of like what this weather’s doing to Handsome Remy’s flesh under all that wool.”

“Lovely, Nicholas,” Sofía said, and shuddered.

“When you shudder, something twinges in my spine,” I told her.

“Because of the empathic bond of womanhood?” she asked.

“Because your knee is digging into a part of my butt I think is connected to my spine,” I said.

“Oh! Sorry!” Sofía tried to make more room for me, but it was no use. She, Arthur, Nick, and I were packed like sardines. I was basically riding on her knees, with my top half hanging out the window where the sticky wind was working to fully tease my already tangled blond hair.

“Take this turn,” Arthur said, leaning forward between Remy and Levi. “It’s faster.”

Despite not knowing how to drive himself, Arthur was pretty confident he knew the fastest way to get anywhere. Of all of us, my brother was the most confident about the most things, and since he was right about 50 percent of the time, he’d become the de facto leader of our group.

Remy nodded and turned down the narrow road that curved through the forest. The car thunked over a pothole, and Sofía and I winced in unison as my tailbone jolted against her thigh.

Remy’s dark eyes flicked toward the rearview mirror, and his dimples surfaced as he grimaced. “Sorry.”

Through the dark, the headlights flashed over the green NOW LEAVING SPLENDOR sign, and Nick whooped and thumped the roof of the car, so that the birds inked on his fingers looked like they’d just flown into it. “Yeah, buddy!” he cried, thumping it again. “So long, assholes!”

It was a running joke.

Our township was so small that the NOW ENTERING SPLENDOR sign sprang up on the two-lane road a minute or two before you reached my house, and the NOW LEAVING sign came another five minutes down the road, when the corn dropped away and the dark woods rose to cup the lane like greedy hands.

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