Brutal Precious Page 2

I heave a sigh and park. Goldfield Beach is tiny, dune grasses swaying between gentle swells of gray sand. The water is choppy and dark today, like a really pissed off witch making a Brew To Doth Kill Many Dudes. It’s the Atlantic - the Atlantic I grew up on. The smell of salt and sun-baked stones fills my nose. Seagulls politely scream at each other over pieces of crab. The ocean is big and doesn’t really care what tone of voice I use, or whether I go shopping or choose Ohio State over Stanford.

I kick my shoes off and run. Running and me got a divorce after I lost enough weight. But right now, running is the best. Even the BMW’s got Kelly’s stench all over it. Running is the only way I can truly leave the bullshit behind.

It’s a fun and unique experience. There’s a lot of sand. I trip on a rock and stub my toe so hard I possibly now have weird deformed hobbit feet. I feel like vomiting. A seagull almost shits on my arm.

“It’s okay, buddy!” I shade my eyes and look up at the sky. “Luckily for you, I am both stunningly good-looking and benevolent. I forgive you!”

He drops a fat deuce on my shoulder in gratitude.

I sigh. It could be worse. I could be surrounded by people. On the moon. And one of those people could be Jack Hunter.

My stomach twists like a yoga prodigy. Icicle eyes fill my mind and I summon what’s left of my fire to melt them away. Not now.

Never again.

I’m far away from the car. Its fancy German headlights can’t watch me contemplate life in the incredibly wistful-yet-also-somehow-sexy manner I am famous for. Infamous for. Am I even gonna be infamous anymore? At East Summit I left my mark, but at Ohio State I’ll be nothing. I’ll be the gum on a busy New York lady’s shoe. Less than that! I’ll be that one piece of bread no one eats because it only has one open face and is sort of always stale no matter when you buy it!

I hadn’t given myself time to worry about a new school. But now that it’s less than a week away, I’m starting to freak. I’m almost a goddamn college freshman! I’ll have a dorm and a roommate and actual classes where grades actually matter! They’ll define the rest of my career slash life slash future prospects with Johnny Depp. I have to start taking things mildly seriously, now! Ugh! Just the word sends shivers down my spine. Serious. Seeeerious. Cereal-ous. Trix are for kids. College is not for kids. College is for grown-ups.

I don’t feel like a grown-up.

I’m more worried about Mom than anything, but she and I planned weekend visits, and I’m going to drive up every Wednesday. Even her therapist says she’s doing better, especially since Leo’s imprisonment. In the Columbus airport when she saw me off, the color in her cheeks was back, and she’d smiled more in a week than I’d seen in my whole life.

Or maybe she was just trying extra hard for me.

I pick up a flat, smooth rock and try to skip it. It drowns instead.

East Summit High sort of wilted after Sophia died.

Nobody would come out and say that, of course, except me. Avery came to school less and less, and finally stopped coming altogether. We learned the day before graduation she’d been in a mental hospital, undergoing intensive therapy. Prom was out of the question. The social order of East Summit was thrown in the blender and turned on high – girls scrabbled to fill the void and take the Prom queen crown. Avery showed up to graduation though, and she walked up to the podium when her name was called and got her diploma. She looked pale and haggard, and her parents were in the crowd giving thin-lipped smiles of dry encouragement. I got the feeling they’d thrown her in the loony bin for show, to get her ‘better’ quickly and without really caring about her well-being. Before any of us could blink, she was whisked away to a private college in Connecticut, instead of UCLA like she’d planned for. Even if she was a bitch, I keep hoping she’ll end up alright. Or at least happier. But Sophia was her redemption, her idol, her friend. If I lost all three of those, I’d be broken, too.

Wren was the first to cry at the funeral, and the last to stop crying. Kayla helped him through the worst of it, visiting his house every day and staying with him in the nurses’ office during school when he crumbled. It broke her heart and my heart to see Wren so horribly, twistedly sad. I reminded him to eat – brought him burritos and pot pies - and when he couldn’t eat, I texted to remind him to sleep. I probably didn’t help much. I probably could have done more. Prom came and went, but none of us attended. We spent it at Sophia’s grave, instead.

By graduation, Wren was learning to smile again. MIT was still a very real thing for him, and he’d left early in the summer to earn a few extra credits, or to escape Sophia’s death. Both, probably. Kayla was torn up by it, but since she’s going to school in Boston in September anyway, she’s hurting a little less. They’d been growing closer after Sophia’s death. Dunno if they’d done anything serious – Kayla mostly just hugged him. No kissing that I could see, and Kayla refused to dish on what they do, more out of respect than embarrassment. She’s grown so much by helping him. She only talks about Vogue once a week, now.

I skip another rock. It flies over the waves and jumps twice before sinking.

I’ll miss Kayla. I already do.

The summer was mostly me and her, having last sleepovers and last quiet bottles of wine in cow pastures while looking at stars. We didn’t go to parties. I didn’t feel like it. She hadn’t been friends with Sophia, but it was still a death that affected her closest friends. We’d promised to text every day. And instagram. And tweet. And facebook. Basically, we’d made a promise to talk. A lot. We might not see each other so much, but a warm blanket of comfort settles over my heart when I think about her. She has my back. I have her flawless backside.

Jack Hunter didn’t cry at the funeral.

He should have, but he didn’t. He stood in the corner by his mother, who cried enough for the both of them, her black dress and his black suit mingling as she leaned on him to keep standing. His hair had been gelled in perfect place, his face an opaque mask of the darkest ice I’d seen yet. The skin below his eyes was bruised with exhaustion, and his cheekbones seemed somehow sharper. I shivered looking at him. He wasn’t putting on the lifeless, emotionless act anymore. He just was lifeless. He was empty. The spark had been sucked out of his eyes, leaving pale shells behind. His entire body, his entire physical presence seemed like a shell – an illusion made of mirrors and brittle frost that would shatter at the slightest touch. He was chilling to look at; like something that shouldn’t still be living, or still moving. A mannequin. A zombie puppet.

I tried once. To bring him back. At the wake, in the musty-smelling funeral home laden with sorrow-cookies and sad-cakes, I said something about Sophia, how the priest who said she was a selfless and beautiful girl didn’t really know her at all. Jack had been holding a cup of water, staring into it as he stood in a corner away from the noise and crying people. He looked up at me, took in my face - red from my own crying - and closed his eyes.

“It’s over,” he said, too calmly.

“What is?” I asked, my stomach roiling. He pushed off the wall and walked away with one last word.


He stopped coming to school, after that. I talked to Principal Evans about it, and he said Jack had dropped out. Harvard hadn’t revoked its early acceptance, and Jack could still theoretically go even with straight F’s for his last two quarters. But both of us knew he wasn’t going. He didn’t care, anymore.

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