Saturday, July 26, 2014

First World Problems

Hola!
Me and Miss Jamie. 

I need to tell you a story. I know, another one.
Let's begin.

So, I have an iPhone 5 and there is a lock on it that only I can open.
Wahahaha!
Or so I thought...

My roommate Jamie kept taking pictures on it, which drove me nuts.

Me: How do you know my password?
Jamie: *smiles mischievously*
Me: How do you know? Tell me!
Jamie: *still smiles mischievously*
Me: Ok, well I'm just going to change the password then. Ha!

Not too long later, I find unfamiliar photos on my phone. She did it again!

Me: Jamie, how can you possibly know?
Jamie: *smiles mischievously*
Me: Speak! You're freaking me out.
Jamie: *still smiles mischievously*
Me: Are you like a wizard or something because this is impossible?

Hmm, I wonder what that camera on the bottom right is for?
As you can imagine, this cycle went on for far too long. I'd change my password and she'd still be able to take pictures then I'd change my password again until... uh oh... I totally forgot it.

Then my iPhone got disabled for 5 minutes which turned into 15 minutes which turned into an hour which turned into FOREVER. And the worst part about all of this was that I had never backed up my iPhone. I didn't know how. Haha! So, I ended up losing all of the lectures from class I had recorded, pictures of my life, etc.


I wanted to cry.
Like dramatically fall to my knees, slap my palms to the ground, and cry out in agony over this catastrophe, especially when I found out that Jamie never knew my password. Apparently you can just slide the lock screen up and take photos that way.

Well, luckily before this event happened. I was on Twitter and saw these tweets from John Green and I have to admit that it changed my life for the better.


The Urban Dictionary defines "First World Problems" as: Problems from living in a wealthy, industrialized nation that third worlders would probably roll their eyes at.
Aw, crap, I don't know which 1 carat diamond encrusted platinum ring to buy!

After remembering that. I came to the sudden realization that Wow, I was having a First World Problem and that the world wasn't going to end and I wasn't going to die. Sure, what happened sucked, but please... It's nothing.

NOTHING.

There is this buddhist quote that goes: "You only lose what you cling to."
Yoda & Cake. The perfect gif. 

And then there is this similar quote by Yoda in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith that goes: "Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed that is. Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose. The fear of loss is a path to the Dark Side."

Now, in this particular scene Yoda discusses the dangers of attachment, specifically when it comes to people and how we must accept death, which is, um, not what I'm talking about here, haha; however, here is my point: We shouldn't get attached to materialistic things.

If we do and we lose them we are causing ourselves a lot of grief over something that really doesn't matter.

Also, it's really important to cultivate gratitude. Wake up with a grateful heart every morning. Even if you are having a really crappy day, there is always something, no matter how small it is, to be thankful for.

Now, when I complain about something I generally add "First World Problems" and then my whole view on the situation is changed.

Here is a list of some of my First World Problems:

  1. Too many food carts! I'm overwhelmed. 
  2. Out of toilet paper. I don't want to walk to Safeway. 
  3. Ugh, my iPod is dead. I have to charge it. 
  4. Netflix isn't loading! 
  5. Hardly anyone liked that photo I posted on Instagram. 
  6. There's not enough room to put more groceries in the refrigerator. 
  7. Ah man, they're out of Ginger Ale on this flight. 
  8. Dang it! Gas tank is low, got to go to the gas station today. 
  9. Ewe, I have to go do the dentist. 
  10. I don't want to get out of my warm, cozy bed to get a glass of water. Oh, but I'm so thirsty! 
  11. Long lines at grocery stores. 
  12. Burnt my finger getting toast out of the toaster. 
  13. Where the hell is the remote?
  14. It's super hot outside and the AC is way too cold inside. 
  15. Earphones getting tangled up. 
  16. Over/under brewed tea. 
  17. Stepping on something wet while wearing socks. 
  18. Burning the popcorn in the microwave. 
  19. Cold car seats in the winter. 
  20. Having a restaurant table indoors while it's sunny outside. 
  21. Pouring cereal into a bowl without first checking to see if I had Almond Milk. I didn't.
  22. Facebook Status with 0 likes. 
  23. 30 second Ads before your YouTube video. 
  24. Bought new shampoo. Forgot to bring it in the shower. 
  25. I have more clothes than hangers. 

Here is my challenge for you. Look at your life and figure out what some of your First World Problems are. Do you complain about them a lot? Are they really that big of a deal?

Next I want you to take a moment to realize what you are really grateful for.
I promise you, this will make you so much happier.
The choice is up to you.

Blog to you later!
Love,
Manders

Friday, July 25, 2014

Week 2 of Teaching

Hola!

Here are my reflections from Week 2. Can't believe I only have 4 days of teaching left.
Click here to read Week 1 reflections. 
These past 2 weeks have flown by!

Day 5 of teaching: Well, first of all, I told Bill Griesar (who directs the whole NW Noggin Program & is one of my professors at PSU) that I almost got struck by lightning last week & that I also saw the BOOK OF MORMON musical recently. He knows all the words to some of the songs! We ended up singing some of them together. It was hilarious! Then he said I almost got struck by lightning probably because I like that musical. Haha… possibly.

So, onto the teaching part! Today was quite a struggle with the kids. They were all super tired & very disrespectful at points. So, I decided to take them outside to get some fresh air (it was also super stuffy in that classroom). I had them line up & demonstrate different parts of a neuron (dendrites, soma, nucleus, axon, myelin sheath, & terminal branches). I had them use a stick that they passed along, which was in representation of a neurotransmitter.

Back in class they were being really rowdy & didn’t want to participate. I felt like I was pulling teeth at times!

Then I went over Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs & I asked how many students had breakfast this morning. Only ½ raised their hands. Aha, there was the problem; they needed their physiological needs (1st level in the pyramid) met in order to concentrate. So, I went over this!

Then I read a quote from “The Fault In Our Stars” that actually challenges this theory. Hazel, who has lung cancer says: “According to Maslow, I was stuck on the second level of the pyramid, unable to feel secure in my health and therefore unable to reach for love and respect and art and whatever else, which is, utter horseshit: The urge to make art or contemplate philosophy does not go away when you are sick. Those urges just become transfigured by illness.
Maslow's pyramid seemed to imply I was less human than other people, and most people seemed to agree with him.”

I think this was the highlight of my day if I were to pick one. Them realizing certain needs have to be met in order to succeed in life. While it was super challenging today, I’m really proud of myself for enduring & for staying disgustingly positive. I feel like Unikitty from the Lego Movie. Haha!


Jeff's creepy clown cup.
Day 6 of teaching: How are we already halfway through the program? It is flying by! 
Today went so much better. Gavin and I listened and applied Myriah's suggestions to our lesson. We showed the vocab on the doc cam before jumping into the powerpoint. Today I also made sure to call out everyone by name. I have them down, which is something I am really proud of!  Everyday it is getting easier being up there. I've gained so much confidence through this program. 
The kids were way more engaged than they were yesterday. Another thing that helped was that when Gavin started talking, I sat down with the kids instead of standing up at the front. I also asked that Christina and Emma (our teacher aids) sit at the tables with the kids to model good behavior and I think this helped out a lot in comparison to yesterday.
Another great thing about today was that we had them turn and talk to each other throughout the powerpoint and then share with the class as a whole.  
Rebecca was in our room today and it was really great because she added a lot of information in our lessons. The kids were really engaged. One kid who doesn't always participated asked Rebecca a bunch of great questions. 
We were told today to be more engaging, so Gavin and I are definitely going to work on that. I think tomorrow will be more engaging just because we have a lot of different activities planned. I will definitely be more theatrical when speaking to get their attention. 
I always love talking one on one with the kids. I can definitely connect with them that way, it's just connecting with them as a whole class that can be challenging.
I'm optimistic for tomorrow! I'm excited that they have read "Rat Park."

One of the kids wrote this for Tuesday's art project. Made me chuckle!

Day 7 of teaching: It's crazy how one day (yesterday) your class can be totally great and the next day well... it doesn't go so well.

I can't believe tomorrow is already the end of Week 2! Only 5 more days of teaching.

Today we did the rubber hand illusion and talked about emotions vs. feelings and perception and how to make the best out of high school.

So, honestly today was actually kind of rough. The kids were super rowdy. I tried Kerry's method of having them stand up at one point and shaking out their energy. Ha! That went well. Some wouldn't even stand out of their seats and once everyone did sit back down the ones that refused to get up were now standing. I was slightly loosing it, but I stayed uber positive and energetic and I think that's why I was so burnt out by the end. I felt like I'd been attacked by a swarm of dementors, feasting on my soul. Ok, I realize that's rather dramatic, but, um, yeah, that's how teaching high school feels sometimes.

Some positives. Today when talking about the amygdala, I slammed my hands down on a desk, scared the crap out of the class, and then asked them what part of their brain were activated. Haha, that was pretty fun, but my palms stung/throbbed afterwards, which is fine because 1) it was priceless and 2) they learned what the amygdala is responsible for.

Another thing that went great was that while the class discussed amongst themselves about a thing in their life in which they don't have control over I went to the very back of the room to talk with this kid we call Pinneapple (who has been goofing off lately, so that's why he was there alone). He was very quiet, which was unlike him, so I sat down with him and asked him:" What is something in your life that you don't have control over and really bothers you?"
He responded with "school."
I agreed with him and then we got into a conversation about my high school experience and how I went through 7 different back procedures. I told him how I hated high school and my life because I always came across as grumpy or uninterested in people when really I was just in a lot of pain or drugged. I talked about how I hated being judged, but then realized that I had been doing the same to people. We talked about my wake-up call at 16 and how everyone is fighting a battle in his or her life and how you have to cut people slack. We also discussed about looking at the big picture. I told him that all my back pain stuff happened over 5 years, which is 22% of my life, but the longer I live the smaller that number will get. I told him that while 4 years of high school is going to seem like forever in the moment, it will just be a small part in his life, but that he still needs to use the best of it. He was smiling and then offered some ideas as to how he could make the best of high school.

We had a great talk and that was the highlight of my day; It's something I'll never forget. I love sitting down one-on-one with these kids. I care about every single one of them and want them to succeed. So, even though today was rough and I felt like my soul had been attacked by dementors, I'm still alive and looking forward to tomorrow because conversations like this are so worth it.

There is always so much litter on my walk to Madison High School, which is down 82nd Avenue. This doesn't make me sad, but rather determined. After I'm done teaching, I'm heading back out to 82nd Ave. w/my trash picker upper thingy & will clean the streets. Anyhow, long story short, I was trekking through many puddles this morning in my TOMS & found this gorgeous leaf & I'm just glad that at the end of the day I remembered this one beautiful leaf rather than dwelled on the street swamped w/trash. :)

Day 8 of teaching: Week 2 is over! This is crazy. I can't believe how fast it has gone by. 
Today we taught the kids about neural plasticity. It was a little different, different in a good way, though! I liked (and I'm sure that the rest of the kids liked) that we did more discussions/activities than lecturing today, which was something that happened yesterday and probably the reason why yesterday went so poorly as far as getting their attention. Also, I think they enjoyed the quirkiness of the powerpoint. I'm so glad we went over the powerpoint and activities the day before. I think we should do this more often. They were definitely listening and cracking up more today. 
Although there were definitely some challenges for this week, I think it went much better than last week because Gavin and I have found a good flow in the classroom, even Rebecca commented on this, which was definitely nice to hear. Since we are building relationships with the kids and getting to know them better, we know how and when to direct the conversation and when to switch gears when something is not running as smoothly.
Out of all the activities, they seemed more engaged with Activity 3, which actually surprised me because it involved listing off ways to make one's brain healthier compared to just talking about what they were good at and why they are good at it in Activity 2. I think as a teen introspection is very difficult. 
However, the thing that surprised me the most about today was when Gavin and I kind of went off on a tangent about Synesthesia and showed a video and then at the end of the youtube clip I told the class that I am a synesthete. I associate colors with numbers. I told them that 0 has no color, 1 is white, 2 is blue, 3 is lime green, 4 is pink, 5 is scarlet, 6 is brown, 7 is mustard yellow, 8 is purple, and 9 is black. They were so interested in this! Then they wanted to quiz me to see if this was true or if I was just making it up. I think this was the highlight of my day!
I'm really excited about the primate exhibit next week!

Super intense poster in one of the science class rooms... 
Blog to you later! 
Love, 
Manders 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

13 Practical Ways to Exercise Your Brain

Hola! 

Last summer I read a book called "Making a Good Brain Great" by Dr. Daniel Amen and loved it! (That's right, I read a book all on brains over the summer. I'm a neuro nerd!) 

I thought I'd share this list Dr. Amen wrote of 13 ways to exercise your brain and to make your life more interesting. 
  1. Dedicate yourself to new learning. 
  2. Take a class about something new & interesting. 
  3. Cross-train at work. 
  4. Improve your skills at something you already do. 
  5. Limit TV for kids & adults. 
  6. Limit video games. 
  7. Join a reading group that keeps you accountable for new learning. 
  8. Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. 
  9. Break the routine of your life to stimulate new parts of the brain.
    1. Try a new sport. 
    2. Take a class in a subject you know nothing about. 
    3. Learn new cooking recipes. 
    4. Do some volunteer work. 
    5. Try a different shampoo, etc. 
    6. Go to church or a different one. 
    7. Go to an opera or symphony concert. 
    8. Join a self-development group. 
    9. Spend time reading the dictionary or a reference book--learn a new word each day. 
    10. Take time out of each day to strengthen a relationship--spouse, lover, child, or friend. 
    11. Make a new friend--call up someone & ask him or her to do something with you. 
    12. Contact an old friend you haven't talked to in a while. 
    13. Submit a new idea at work, maybe even one you've thought about for a while but were too embarrassed to mention because you thought no one would be interested in it. 
    14. Forgive someone you hold a grudge against. 
  10. Compare how similar things work. 
    1. Learning to see, hear, feel, or taste subtle changes will enhance your sensory ability & stimulate brain growth.
  11. Visit new & different places. 
  12. Cultivate smart friends.
  13. Treat learning problems to help kids and adults stay in school. 
Are you doing any of these things now? Which one of these do you need to work on?

Blog to you later! 
Love, 
Manders 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Recap of this Week's Teachings

Hola!

I don't have as much time to blog as I used to, so instead I've just been writing really long Facebook posts. Here are all my posts on how teaching is going though.

Day 1 of teaching: Taught my first day of class today! It was challenging but fun. Teaching Neuroscience to a group of about 15 incoming Madison High School freshmen. I'm going to grow a lot from this experience.

Day 2 of teaching: Today we taught about the 4 lobes of the brain as well as the cerebellum & brainstem. It was really exciting to see these kids go from very sleepy individuals at the beginning to yelling out answers and raising their hands at the end. They definitely appreciated my effort to remember their names & how they were doing that day before I went over an activity with them. Staying positive & energetic & being in constant engagement for 2 hours is definitely tiresome by the end (I always want to take a nap after teaching), but it is definitely rewarding when you think: "Hey, they totally understood and were excited by what I taught them today! That feels great!" I have a much deeper appreciation for teachers now & I think that's a great lesson within itself.

Day 3 of teaching: Today was a little bit tougher. Kids were really tired & difficult to engage. They definitely have the lobes of brain down, which is awesome! We went over the structure & function of neurons & how action potentials work, which is even dense material in college. I was really proud of them for what they did remember though. Highlight of my day was when it came to the neuron drawings.1 kid wasn't drawing & when I asked him why he said: "I suck at art."
Me: "No you don't. No one who tries sucks. There are no rules in art."
Him: "Yes there are. Our middle school teacher was so strict. She'd mark us down if we didn't draw a perfect circle with a protractor. We had too many guidelines. We couldn't be creative." He then added, "It's like taking away our rights."
I noted how frustrating that must have been & how all the art projects we do in class will not restrict his creativity like that. I remember him smiling a little and as challenging as today was his smile was worth it.

Day 4 of teaching: Today went so much better! The kids definitely like Gavin and me. For some reason they kept asking us to do a rap battle, which I thought was hilarious. I ran with it! I was like: "Yeah, we can do it as long as we're rapping about the brain!" We demonstrated the all or nothingness of action potentials by dropping mentos into diet coke. This was my first time ever doing it, so I actually screamed louder than the kids because most of them had already done it before. The coke shot SO high though it was so fun! Then we went back inside & reviewed the structure/functions of neurons & how neurotransmitters work & also talked about stress. I went over the sympathetic & parasympathetic nervous system & also talked about cortisol & the pros & cons of stress. Then Gavin & I led a guided meditation, which was more of a comedic sketch & had the kids cracking up. I made Gavin read from the script because I kept laughing. In the end though I talked about how important laughter is to reducing stress & how we all need to find something in our day (whether it's finding a quiet place or laughing w/friends) that recharges us somehow. It was a fantastic day! Can't believe I've already completed & survived my first week of teaching Neuroscience to high school students!

Blog to you later!
Love,
Manders

Monday, July 14, 2014

Lightning Strike

Hola!

So, today has been a little crazy. A video I took yesterday was featured on Good Morning America and apparently ABC World News. Haha! It's a little unreal.



So, here's what happened. Yesterday, Sunday, July 13th, there was an insanely loud thunder and lightning storm right over my house in Salem. Our miniature horses were outside running around, not taking shelter, so we wanted to get them inside the barn where they'd be safer. Well, my step-dad Mike and I went out into the garage and before we went out into the storm I turned on my iPhone's camera and recorded our journey out to the horses. As Mike and I ran outside I said: "You never know what I might catch on camera."

Well, as we were running out I yelled "Going into the storm!" and then chuckled because nothing was happening, but then immediately afterwards this lightning bolt strikes the ground a couple feet from us and you can see the flash in the video. Apparently, I don't respond to fear in a normal way like falling to the ground, instead I just laugh like a maniac.

Anyways, after this happened my mom ran out and made us come back inside, get the minis later. I watched the video over and I almost peed my pants I thought it was so funny. So, I sent it to my local news station KATU News and then they sent it to Good Morning America, who then contacted me to see if it was OK to air the clip. I was like: Of course!

And then they did this morning and this evening! So, it's been pretty exciting. Haha! Glad I didn't die. Glad I find humor in the strangest things--keeps my life interesting for sure!

Blog to you later!
Love,
Manders

PS

I just sent it to the Ellen Degeneres Show, so cross your fingers it gets played on there too!

Monday, July 7, 2014

CHANGE: I've Got the Power!

Hola!
I'll add it to my bucket list. 

So yesterday I went to church with my friends and one of them asked me what I did earlier that day.
Me: I went on a hike, did laundry, and cleaned the kitchen. 
Her: What? You didn't go swimming with whales?
Clearly, my friends think my life is way more exciting than it really is. Haha!

However, I'm really glad they see me this way because it means I'm doing something right. At the beginning of summer in 2013 I had a bit of a setback that caused me to be down in the dumps and instead of doing something to climb out of that dark hole I just curled up into a little ball and didn't even try and of course this only made me more depressed.
Never letting Summer of '13 happen again. 

There's this great quote by Dale Carnegie that goes: Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.

So, that's exactly what I've done this summer! I am keeping ridiculously busy because action feels so good. I love working my body and brain and just trying new things and being alive.

(It should be pretty obvious by now that I love quotes.) Here's a great one I think about all the time by Karen Salmansohn: What if I told you 10 years from now your life would be exactly the same? Doubt you'd be happy. So, why are you afraid of change?

Here were some of the things I've wanted to change over the years since I graduated high school (mind you, many of these goals stemmed from being in and out of the hospital for five years).

  1. Be more extroverted. 
  2. Change up the wardrobe. 
  3. Get published.
  4. Volunteer more. 
  5. Exercise more. 
  6. Try new things even if they're scary. 
And so far I've accomplished all these things! Yay!

Being more extroverted. Actually funny story, I was at a party on the 4th of July and someone asked me if I was an extrovert. I actually had to think about this because for the longest time I identified as an introvert and was labeled as such by many of my teachers during high school, but then one of my friends was nodding his head with absolute certainty and kept saying: No, you're definitely an extrovert. 
I find this very interesting. 
I like meeting new people, learning from them, and cultivating relationships. That's why I like to make sure I do something with someone every day of the week. 
Pizza dinner with Ashley.

Hiking up San Francisco hill w/Mariko. 

Lunch on the waterfront with Rashika.


Rockaway beach with Rashika!

Lake Tahoe with Jamie.

Ruby Jewels w/Ashley, Amy, Joanna, and Bekah!

The wardrobe... Well, I feel like I can do an entire blog post on this subject, but let's just say that my roommate Jamie helped me out big time when it came to this department. It was like an episode from What Not To Wear. The key is to be open to change and to try new things. 

Before 
Um...

So bright!

Yes, this is just embarrassing...

After



Getting published. I'm a Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor! 
Winning Life Back (published)
The Time My Horse Knew Better and Faith Not Fear (not published yet, but hopefully) 
Pain Reveals You (unpublished) 

Volunteer. I'm doing more of this lately. Helping others and doing things that will make the world a better place is so rewarding and makes me so much happier! I love volunteering with SOLVE and the Red Cross and I volunteered once with Night Strike (like to do more of that). I am going to volunteer at the Hood to Coast this summer; also I pick up trash for fun! 
Picking up trash w/Ryoma and Takaho.
Exercise more. I go walking up San Francisco hill just about every single day, do yoga, zumba, and water aerobics. 

Try new things even if they are scary. I went swing dancing the other week even though I wasn't too keen on doing it, but it's good to try new things. I sucked at it and it was horrifying and my palms sweated like crazy and my back hurt a lot because someone dipped me but didn't know I had screws in my back that can't let my spine bend that way, but I went out of my comfort zone and learned for sure that I do not like swing dancing. I can choose what I do, but I can't choose what I like to do. 
April and I before Swing Dancing.
It's weird how sky diving doesn't faze me, but swing dancing does (anyhow, that's a whole other post in itself). 
Also, I am teaching Neuroscience to high schoolers this summer! Which is kind of terrifying, but it's a good kind of terrifying.

I'll write more on teaching later, but the point I want to make here is that if you want a different life, make one. You have the power to do so! 


And after much thought I'd have to say that my life is pretty dang exciting and I'm glad I've made it that way. 

What kind of changes do you want to make in your life? 

Love, 
Manders

P.S: Some suggested videos. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Confession: I Slip Notes Into Books & Magazines

Hola!

I have a confession to make.

Last Sunday, on my flight back from Sacramento, California I got an idea. Normally when I travel by airplane I'll draw one of my mad cows and write something like "Have a nice flight!" and then slip that piece of paper into one of the provided magazines. This time I did something different; I wrote a note on the back side of my ticket that said something like: "Hi there! I hope you have a nice flight and that the plane doesn't crash. If you are looking for a great young adult novel to read. Please check out my story 'The Savior.'" And then I told them how to find this blog. In the last part of my message I wrote: "Please let me know if you found this note."

So hopefully this happens because that would be really awesome!

Ok, so today I did a similar thing. I was hanging out with my friend Keiana in the Beaverton Powell's Bookstore and decided to slip some notes into several books. I ended up writing about 6 notes on the back of a couple of movie tickets and (clean) napkins that read: "If you liked this book you should check out 'The Savior' by Amanda Yancey. Google it!" But we didn't just slip them into any books. We slipped them into books that had just come out or that were probably going to be read soon because the movie adaptation is coming out this year. Here are some books I slipped my notes into.

  1. Dreams of Gods & Monsters
  2. Champion
  3. Sinner
  4. The Mortal Instruments: City of Heavenly Fire
  5. The Maze Runner
  6. Mockingjay
Yeah, I'll admit I felt a little weird doing this... anytime someone talked over the PA system I swear it was because they were going to come arrest me or something. Haha! But it was also really exciting and who knows! Maybe someone will actually read my story because of it and maybe they'll even write to me after they find the note.  

Basically what I looked liked as I slipped the notes in. 
This morning I received a lovely email from a super nice girl. She wrote: "Hi! You're Amanda, right? I read your Chicken Soup for the Soul story and I want to be friends." This made me super happy inside. It's a really rewarding feeling to know that people are reading your writings and its making some sort of impact on them. 

Slowly but surely my dreams are coming true and it's really exciting! 

I'll definitely write more later because I have a ton of things to share with you, but for now I seriously need to go to bed. I am super tired, but I thought I'd share that funny (well, I think it's funny, but then again I think everything is funny) confession with you. 

Blog to you later!
Love, 
Manders 

P.S:
I feel like this video clip kind of pertains to this post. At least Keiana and I laughed over it today. 


Double P.S: 
If you'd like to read some more awesome blogs, I highly suggest these. 





Thursday, July 3, 2014

THE SAVIOR: Final Chapter



Logan:
Later that day, the house is pretty much dead. Mom, Nellie, and Noah left with Hannah about an hour ago for the oral surgeon’s office to get her wisdom teeth pulled out. Poor kid. The twins are at a paint-balling party and Connor is out riding his bike, so it’s just Juna and me here.
I sit down beside her on the couch as she watches the news. “Hey, that’s out where Selene lives,” I tell Juna, pointing at the ruins of a gas station. It looks like a huge bomb went off there. All the trees surrounding it are charcoaled and crumbling.
I look to her and she says nothing. Juna just stares blank-faced at the screen.
“What do you think happened?” I ask, leaning back into the couch as I try to feel more comfortable sitting next to her.  
“It blew up.” She shrugs.  
“Yeah, I see that, but you think it was an accident or on purpose?”
“Why are you asking me?” Juna sighs. “I’m sure they’ll tell us.” She points to the screen.
“Jesus,” I huff, sitting upright again, leaning my hands onto my knees. “Just trying to make conversation.”
The news reporter tells us that three bodies were discovered at the scene. They, too, wonder whether this was a sad accident or done purposefully, but have no details to report yet.
Juna glances over at me for a second with sad eyes like she knew one of the victims. “I was,” she begins and then shakes her head and looks at the screen again.
“You were what?” I prompt her.
Juna faces me again, arms folded across her chest, “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen?”
I remember that day perfectly. Mom screamed for me to call 911, Hannah kept asking me why he wouldn’t wake up, and the younger ones wailed out of confusion over their distraught mother. I remember stepping into the room and smelling his crap. “My dad dead in his bed,” I answer. 
“That’s pretty bad.” Juna nods and then flicks off the TV.
“Why?” I ask.
“Um, I don’t know,” she answers, but I don’t believe her.
Juna stares down at her folded arms and sighs.
“You ok?” I ask.
“I’m scared that what I think is the worst thing I’ve ever seen isn’t even close to what’s to come,” she answers. 

Juna:
By dinnertime, Hannah is drugged out and sound asleep on the couch, cocooned in the quilt taken off her bed. I stay with her, while everyone eats. I went hunting yesterday, so I’m no longer hungry and won’t be hungry for a while, but I can’t deny how delicious the scent of red beans and rice wafting from the kitchen smells.
I sit here on the couch next to an unconscious Hannah, watching the rest of BBC’s version of Pride and Prejudice by myself and it’s a challenge not to think of Max every time Colin Firth appears on screen with his dark brown eyes and thick gorgeous hair.
The resemblance annoys me.
Everything goes black and at first I think the electricity has gone out, but then I hear voices, two distinct and painfully familiar voices, shouting in my head.
Oh god! A woman shrieks. No, no, no, no. Please not again.
I’m trying! The boy gasps, glass shattering across the floor. Something deep and painful wretches out of him like nails splintering wood.
Pulled out of the darkness, I stare at the screen, no longer concerned with whether Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy will hook up. Instead, I get to my feet and rush for the kitchen. “Juna,” Hannah murmurs sleepily, but I ignore her.
“I have to go,” I tell Brianne directly. “It’s Max. Max’s is in trouble. I’m serious. I have to go.”
“What’s happening?” Nellie asks, confused. “What did you see?”
“I didn’t see anything,” I tell her. “That’s the problem.”
“Wait Juna,” Brianne says, but I don’t. Instead, I’m running out the front door and sprinting down the driveway. I leap into the air, a tremor ripples down my spine, and I change, paws scrapping furiously against the pavement as I race for Max.


Logan:
Mom turns to me, exasperatedly. “Can you please drive over to Selene’s? Just to make sure.”
“Yes,” I say, rising from the table, grabbing the keys. I jog out to the truck. The sun is just setting now. She better not be lying this time.
“Logan!” A squeaky voice calls after me.
I turn around. “Get back inside Noah,” I yell, pointing to the house like I’m yelling at a dog.  
“No,” she whines, stamping her foot. “I want to come with you.”
“Well, you can’t,” I say, rolling my eyes as I climb into the truck.
She runs up to the truck, pounding her fists against the driver’s window. “Let me go, let me go!” She screams. “I want to see Juna.”
“No,” I shout through the window as I start the engine.

Juna:
A scream pierces my ears as I race up the lawn’s slope.
Selene.
Urging my paws faster, I swiftly shift back into my human self, nearly stumbling across the grassy floor as I head for the house. Shaking out my arms and clenching my fists, I gain feeling back in my fingertips. I sprint up the porch steps and just as I am reaching for the front door Max forces himself outside.
He bumps into me, but does not seem to have noticed this. Instead, he is zonked out, absorbed in some other state of mind, and when I look up at him I realize something is wrong, something is really, really wrong with him, irises the shade of blood!
Oh no. My heart screams.  
Max shoves me hard off to the side and I slam into a post. Selene rushes out the door, screaming at the sight of me. “Oh god, Juna!” She shrills. “What are you doing here? You really shouldn’t be here right now. You need to leave.”
Max leaps off the front porch, the veins in his arms bulging into giant blue electrical cords pressed beneath snowy white skin.
Grabbing me by the shoulders, Selene ushers me into the house, shouting, “Here, you need to get inside now!”
“No,” I protest, slapping her hands away from me.
“Yes!” She screams. “Get inside!”
I shake myself free from her grasp, spring off the porch, and run in front of Max who marches determinedly toward the orchards. “Max!” I shout, trying to get him to look at me, but he refuses. Crimson eyes fixed straight ahead, glaring above my head into the trees. “Damn it Max look at me!” I shout again, palms pressing against his shoulders, desperately trying to push him back toward the house, but failing miserably. He plows right through me and I slip in the opposite direction.
“Juna!” Selene shouts at me, racing toward us. “You have to get away from him!”
Halting midstride his body convulses.
“Oh god,” Selene wails. “Get away from him Juna! GET AWAY NOW!”
“Max!” I shout again, seeking his attention and I get it all right. He elbows me in the face and my nose makes this terrible crackling sound. I double over, blood dripping into my mouth, my vision blackening at the edges.  
Raising my chin I watch as his body twists, throbs, and stretches in ways no human body ever should. He makes a strange low sound, a guttural noise that hums at the back of his throat, rises into a groan, rattles up his throat and tears through clenched teeth.
Before me stands my murderous, beastly soul mate.

Logan:
There better be a freaking emergency. Otherwise if I find her in Max’s room making out with him I’m going to have to beat the crap out of him and I don’t think I’d have any problem with that.

Juna:
“Run!” Selene screams, backing away from Max. “Hurry! Get back to the house!”
Oh, I run all right, just not in the direction Selene wants me to. Instead, I lunge into the air, landing on four paws. Gasping, Selene stalls at the door. I bark at her, meaning: Don’t just stand there, woman. Get inside and lock the freaking door!
 I swivel around and find Max staring at me, those dark crimson eyes of his searing through the darkness. Hands clenching into firm fists at his sides, a growl rips between his teeth, shaking his entire diaphragm.
I think he remembers me.
Holding my ground, tingles shimmy down my neck and spine, hackles rising.  I snarl too, faking the sound of bravery.
As he takes a heavy step toward me, another growl rolling through his body, all I can think is, Max, please don’t make me do this.
He jerks forward, bolting across the grass, swinging his colossal arm back, preparing to strike.
I stay put, shifting into a low crouch.
The ground shakes harder with each nearing step. About to swipe at me, I bounce into the air, sinking my teeth deep into the sinewy flesh of his arm. Shaking me loose, he yelps in pain, a horrific sound that stabs at my heart.  
Lunging for me again I do nothing this time, too afraid of hurting him. His fist slams against my ribs, flinging me into the air. Just barely missing an old oak tree I smack the ground with a load thu-thump, landing onto my flank.
Sobbing uncontrollably, Selene presses her hands against the windowpane, watching the horror unfold from inside her house. Ears flicking in that direction, Max snarls, foam spurting out the side of his mouth as he launches toward the house with killing on his mind.

Logan:
I pull onto Selene’s driveway and feel my foot gaining weight, pushing down harder against the accelerator. I let up a little, so I don’t hit a squirrel or something.
There better be a freaking catastrophe going on WOMAN or else I’m—and just as I am about to finish that thought I see something horrible.
A huge bear-like thing is on Selene’s lawn, growling at something, but I can’t see what that something is. It looks as though it wants to get into the house, but for some reason can’t.
My foot slams on the break and I jerk forward against my seat belt. There is no way in hell I am getting near that thing, but for some reason I am hesitant to put the van into reverse.
A brown wolf leaps from the ground and slams into the monster’s chest, causing the beast to fall back several steps.
Oh god, I think.
My foot is back on the gas and I am shooting up next to where I usually park and before I know it I’m out of the car, racing up the steps to the front lawn.
The two tear up Selene’s lawn as they near the edge of the orchards where a group of us once hung out at the barbecue. A combination of snarls and gnashing teeth echoes through the trees. 
My heart beats a mile a minute.
The monster lashes out at Juna and sends her flying backwards. Her spine crashes against the edge of the wooden picnic table.
“Juna!” I yell out of instinct.
The monster snaps his head around in my direction, his piercing blood red eyes meeting mine. A snarl rips through its throat and foam spews from his mouth.
Oh shit, I think.

Juna:
After a short moment of blacking out, my vision returns, and I see Max bolting for the driveway. Launching forward, I rocket after him again and as I urge my legs forward, desperate in my attempts to catch up with him I see something that makes my heart stutter.
Logan.
He stands dumbfounded at the edge of the lawn, watching Max charge for him, preparing to rip him limb from limb.
You idiot! I think angrily, pushing my legs faster.
Once in reach I spring from the grass, plunging my fangs through his calf muscles, anchoring my butt to the ground, and holding him back. Max howls in pain and I let go, a pang of guilt hitting me hard in the chest. Wheeling his neck around Max snaps his teeth at me, kicking me in the mouth with his opposite foot.
My head slams into the grass and for a couple seconds everything goes black, a single thought zipping through my mind: I am going to die.
“Juna!” A voice cries out, an innocent squeak of terror.
Vision clearing, I peek around Max, desperately hoping I heard wrong. I don’t see her, but then I hear it again, my name sounding from an unmistakable little voice.
Noah.
Horror curls itself around my throat and I can barely breathe.
WHY THE HELL DID HE BRING HER HERE?
Max wheels around, no longer interested in killing me, it’s them he wants. He wants to harm Noah, my precious, darling little Noah, and in that very moment something inside me snaps.
Here are my two options: kill the one I love or let the one I love kill. It’s a nightmare of a situation and no matter my choice the outcome isn’t going to be pretty. The seconds tick, my bones ache, death is just around the corner and now is my time to act.
All I can think about is protecting Noah.
I have to protect Noah.
With anger pulsing through my veins I hurl myself into the air, leaping onto his back, biting into his scruff and then yanking—with all my might—down. In that short moment before hitting the ground I hear three things: a crackle, scream, and a yelp. Opening my mouth, I let go of him.
Spasms ripple across his body like waves crashing along the shore and when I look up to his face I’ve seen that his eyes have rolled back into his head.
“Max!”
My head snaps around.
Selene darts down the porch steps and sprints across the lawn.
My eyes return to Max and I am stunned to find him changed back into his normal human-self already. Bite marks cover his entire body and blood seems gush from every limb. His skin begins turning this horrible bluish color and his body keeps twitching as though seized by an electrical current.  
I did this to him.
“Oh my god!” Selene wails, collapsing to her knees beside me. 
Eyes flickering up to Logan, he remains in the same spot at the edge of the lawn, shaking and petrified.
Where is Noah? I wonder.
Selene touches Max’s face and shouts out his name, but he says nothing, does nothing.
A single tear trickles from the corner of his eye.

Logan:
Words cannot describe this moment.
I hear the sound of a car’s engine and twist my neck in its direction to a pair of headlights speeding up the driveway. Strangers hop out of their car, one of them carrying a gun in his hands.
I turn back around to Juna, who makes little whining noises as she touches her wet nose to Max’s bloodied hair. Her ears are sort of flopped out to the sides—it’s a gut-wrenching sight.
Selene pushes Juna away, sobbing as she punches her in the ribs. “Get!” She shouts. “Get out of here!”
Juna hops back a bit, but she can’t stop looking at Max. I don’t think she is fully aware of the group of strangers heading up the pathway to the lawn. I turn back to them, worried at what they’ll do. They sound panicked, angry too. The one with the shotgun leads the pack. “What happened?” He shouts.
I open my mouth, but nothing comes out.
“Oh my god,” someone shrieks.
“Call 911,” another says.
I turn back to Selene who is sobbing uncontrollably.
“Is that the little bastard who did this?” The man asks, pointing the barrel of the gun at Juna.
Selene nods.
The man steps past Selene, toward Juna, and fires his gun.
“No!” I holler, lunging for the man and then slamming into him.
“What the hell is the matter with you boy?” he asks, wheeling around, but when I look past him Juna is nowhere to be seen.

Juna:
When Max and I were younger we used to skip down to this park every day after school near St. Marks Children Center and go cloud watching. I remember this one time when I was ten-years-old I had fallen asleep beside Max with my hands resting behind my head. Even in sleep, I saw clouds dancing across the sky.
I woke up to the rumbling sound of an airplane flying overhead and I immediately thought of Max’s parents who had died in a plane crash when he was only four years old. “Max,” I asked, “what do you think it’s like to die?”
I’m pretty sure he was thinking the same thing at that moment because he answered with: “I hope it’s peaceful.”
“Me too,” I said.

Logan:
I stumble into the house like a drunk.
“Logan?” Mom asks, rising from the couch in the living room, expression shifting dramatically once she sees the crazed mixture of fear and pain in my eyes.
I drop my butt to the floor, staring down blankly at my socks.
Mom bends down beside me. “Logan,” she says, lifting my chin, “what happened?”
 My throat funnels tight and I can’t get what I need to say out of it.
“Is it Juna?” she asks, worried. “Is Juna okay?”
“I, yeah, she’s ok—I mean, no. Not really. I don’t know where she is,” I say. “I was hoping she came home.”
The knowledge of what I am about to say prickles a kind of regret somewhere in the back of my throat and I really, really don’t want to say it.
“Max is dead,” I tell her.
Something loud crashes behind us. Mom swings her head around and when I look beyond her I see Juna. She has fallen to her knees and is shaking on the floor. Her body is a checkerboard of black and blue bruises and she is bleeding is several places too.
“Juna!” Nellie screams, stumbling down the hallway. She bends down and tries to reach for her, but Juna smacks her away.
“Why did you bring Noah?” Juna shrills. “Why?
At first I don’t get that she’s talking to me. “I-I didn’t,” I tell her.
“Yes you did,” she screams. “I heard her.”
“Juna,” Mom tries to say soothingly, “Noah has been here the entire time.”
“What?” she wails, tears springing from her eyes now. “But I heard her. He was gonna kill her…and, and I had to protect her.”
“I swear to God, she didn’t go with him,” Mom repeats, reaching out for her.
“But I heard her!” Juna closes her eyes and begins wailing. “I heard her!”

Juna:
The days feel like weeks and this week has felt like one terrible day. Every second is worse than the last. Nightmare and reality have blurred together and I cannot believe this day is finally here.
I don’t want it to be here.
I don’t want to see the casket containing the boy I love. The boy I murdered. I don’t want to see the grief I’ve caused on everyone’s face.
I don’t want to be here.
Still banged up pretty badly, there remains a limp in my walk, but it’s the center of my chest that aches the most. What used to feel like a bright glowing ball of warmth growing inside of me is now a deep, dark, icy hole, swallowing me up from the inside out.  
Logan helps me out of the car and I have difficulties moving. My feet drag across the gravel as though two bowling balls are chained to each ankle.
We follow the darkly dressed group of people up the pebbled pathway a little ways and then trek across the damp grass toward the creek. The grass slopes down a couple feet to this rocky, waterless creek. On the other side of it is a golf course. A completely different atmosphere hovers over there. Two men zoom by on a golf cart, laughing deeply with one another.
No one laughs here.
As we near our destination, a shady spot underneath a weeping willow tree, my feet stop and I can’t will myself to step into the darkness.
Too cold.
I want to stay out in the sun. Stay out in the warmth. Closing my eyes, I take a deep breath, and then tilt my head toward the sky, opening my eyes as wide as they will go, staring into the sun until the brilliant yellow burns the backs of my eyes.
I don’t want to be here.
I don’t want to be here.
I don’t want to be here.
“Come on, Juna,” Logan whispers into my ear, placing his arm around my waste, gently urging me forward. Brianne follows behind us like a ghost, quiet and refrained. She neither touches me nor speaks to me. I don’t see the point of her being here. She never knew him. Never cared for him. She is nothing but another body added to the mourning crowd.
Merging into the group of black figures it looks as though we are creating one massive shadow around the long rectangular coffin.
His coffin.
I stare at the coffin and notice how shiny it is, admire the time someone spent detailing and perfecting this box, and then I am sickened with the knowledge of how dirty it’ll get when lowered into that deep, dark, worm-infested hole in the ground. It will be destroyed, ruined, wasted. Why would anyone be willing to put so much care and effort into something that is just going to be smothered with dirt in the end?
A breeze sweeps through the property, jangling the wooden wind chimes hanging on the willow tree’s thickest branch. They clonk against one another and for some reason the sound raises the hairs on the back of my neck. 
My throat tightens as I slide my fingertips along the slippery mahogany casket. The wood has grown frigid, laying here in the shade, reminding me of how his skin was in his last days. I catch sight of my reflection in it, something I haven’t seen in a while. I notice the lines in my face, how permanent incisions dig between my eyebrows as though someone took an X-Acto knife to my face, carefully carving away at the flesh and causing scarring, forcing me to remember why they exist. Little red lines snake in all sorts of directions across both eyes, a result from the endless amounts of crying.
I can’t look at it anymore. I hate that person.
Dark crimson roses surround his coffin like a puddle of blood. Their smell is overwhelming and triggers a memory of the two of us years ago when we were both in sixth grade. It was Valentines Day and before we boarded the bus for school he handed me a heart-shaped box of chocolates and a red rose. A note was attached to the chocolates that read:

Happy Valentine’s Day Juna!
Love,
Theodore  

“What the heck is this?” I asked him with disgust in my voice.
“We should pretend you’ve got a lover so the boys don’t come after you today,” he told me as he urged me up the steps onto the bus.
“Boys never come after me.”
“You’d be surprise,” he said, both of us moving to the back of the bus.
“Oh really?” I asked sarcastically, plopping down in my seat.
“Yup.”
“Why’d you use your middle name then?” I asked, pointing to the note.
“Only name I could think of.” He shrugged and then looked out the window.

I glance up from the coffin to the faces surrounding it. My eyes meet with Selene’s, but the minute they do she looks away and presses her lips into a thin line and then suddenly I’m looking away too, feeling as though everyone’s eyes are on me, hot as the desert sun.
My heart starts beating faster, causing the fabric of my black cotton dress Brianne picked up for me at Target to bounce with the rhythm of it. I want to hide behind the veil of my hair, but can’t right now. I mean, I could, but it would involve undoing the tightly knitted French braid Hannah weaved into the back of my head and that takes too much effort.   
So, instead, I just stand there by his coffin feeling like an idiot, not knowing what to do or how to behave anymore. Should I stand? Should I sit? Should I look people in the eye? If not, then where do I look?
I don’t know anymore.
Birds chirp all around us. At first it is something I merely notice and think nothing of, but then two crows join in with the chorus, cawing obnoxiously, and then suddenly my fists clench into tight balls at my sides and I get this violent urge. I want to kill the crows. I want to grasp their throats between my fists, give them a good shake, shake them until they die, scream at them to shut the hell up because I hate how they’ve ruined the music.
I try to ignore the crows, focus on something else.
I look to Selene again.
Selene, gorgeous even in mourning with her pale skin and burning auburn hair, nods and hugs a bunch of people, all of them strangers to me. The only people I recognize are those I met at the barbecue, Harris Pratt with his father, Robert, as well as his girlfriend, the blonde, Marley. The Lautens, however, are vacationing in Switzerland, like they do every year apparently. 
I walk over to Selene. Only a few steps away from me, but the journey over to her is one of the most grueling trips I have ever taken. “Selene?” I croak, forcing myself to look directly into her eyes. A fire crackles behind these eyes as I say, “I’m…I’m so sorry.”
But before she speaks this fire extinguishes and nothing is left of it. Not even the tiny glowing embers of hope for the start of another fire. “Just let me be Rachel,” Selene mutters.
Rachel…who is Rachel? I think, but before I can ask, Selene has pushed past me to speak with someone else.
That dark icy hole in my chest is bigger now. It swallows me up like a snake swallows a mouse, slowly and painfully.   
A hand cups my shoulder and when I turn around two lovely indigo blue eyes, now red and swollen from crying, meet mine. Leslie. “Hey June Bug,” she says weakly, doing her best to force a smile.
“Hi,” I breathe.
“I don’t know if you ever got my last email, but, um, Selene is that friend from Oregon I mentioned earlier. You know, the one I’d get together to have coffee with a couple times a year?” she asks, trying to jog my memory.
I nod numbly.
“Well, um, as you know she adopted,” the words tangle around in her throat and before she can get that last word out—that name we both so dearly adore—tears spill from her eyes.
I wrap my arms around her, tuck my chin in tightly, and clamp my eyes shut. The next thing I know, my body is shaking uncontrollably because a sob has just pushed its way up and out of my throat. “I’m so sorry sweetheart,” she whispers into my hair, rubbing large circles into my back.
“Me too,” I exhale and she doesn’t even understand the meaning behind my apology. 
The crows caw louder now and I’m about ready to jam my thumbs into my head until both eardrums burst because I’d rather be deaf than continue hearing that god-awful sound of death.
Leslie and I stand side-by-side, hands linked as the ceremony begins. A short, round man dressed in all black begins speaking, saying, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints . . .” He speaks about life and death and how unfair such a short one is. The rest of his words blur together until I hear nothing at all, nothing but the sound of my own beating heart, pounding madly in my ears.
The last time I was standing before a casket was at Lylan’s funeral and instead of gripping firmly onto Leslie’s hand, it was Max’s hand I held that day. Unlike her long, cold, bony fingers, Max’s hands were rough and thick, always warm, always bringing warmth. I miss those hands. Those hands that tugged me into all sorts of trouble, that always tried to flatten down the collar of my shirt, those hands that cupped the sides of my face so that when he leaned in to kiss me I wouldn’t escape. Whose hand will I hold when I stand before Leslie’s casket?  
Leslie releases her hold on my hand and gently pats my back. “My turn,” she whispers. Trembling as though freezing in the arctic, she maneuvers through the crowd of people on her way over to the opposite side of the casket, standing where the round, short speaker once stood. Her hands come together and Leslie exhales before saying, “Hello. My name is Leslie Markham. I, um, took care of Max before Selene adopted him. Um,” she sighs, glancing up at the drooping willow branches overhead, “Max came into my life around thirteen years ago. His parents died in a terrible flying accident and things weren’t looking too good for him at first since he didn’t have any other family to claim during that time… until he joined ours, of course. On the very first day Max joined St. Mark’s Children Center, his soon to be best friend, Juna, gave him a little haircut. And”—Leslie laughs, shaking her head—“God, he looked terrible. Max graciously put up with a lot of things Juna did to him.”
This comments pierces me like an arrow to my heart and that dark, icy, hole at the center of my chest gets larger and the prey gets pushed a little further down the snake’s throat.
My eyes sear again and as I wipe away the tears that have already dried against my cheek Logan stands closer to me. He doesn’t touch me and that’s fine because I don’t want him to. He just stands closer to me, our arms barely brushing against one another, and I appreciate the support he gives me even when I am non-deserving of it.
“Max,” Leslie continues, “was always a bright, athletic, and kind-hearted soul. Despite his misfortunes in life he persevered with a smile on his face and succeeded in so many ways. His enthusiasm for life still warms my heart and makes me strive to be the best person I can possibly be in this life. He has touched so many lives, even though his was…” she pauses, bites her lip, and then pushes through with her sentence, “even though his was shorter than all of us would have liked. I, uh, would like to finish off on a lighter note, since I’d much rather focus on his life and what he enjoyed doing with that life of his than dwell and only remember his, um… his death.” Leslie reaches down behind Max’s casket, out of sight, and quickly emerges with our banged up kitchen CD player, which she then sets onto the stool on her right provided for the service. “Max, uh, like me and Juna, was a big lover of music,”—Leslie swallows—“so I’d like to play a couple of his favorite songs for you.”
Leslie clicks the CD player to life and then plucks out a tissue from her purse, wiping away the black river of tears and mascara running down her face. We listen to a thirty-second clip of the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” and I am pulled back to the thousands of mornings I spent eating stale, sugarcoated cereal beside Max before school or the times it was just him and I in the kitchen, slaving over mountains of homework and snacking on a bowl of buttery popcorn that stained our papers with yellow grease marks.
As we wait for the next song to play I realize a lightness to the muscles in my face. I was smiling, but the silence quickly erases this smile.  
Leslie plays “Hotel California” by the Eagles, reminding me of the times Max and I spent walking to In-N-Out Burger after school on Fridays. She plays some Led Zeppelin, which was more of my favorite than Max’s and then lastly Kiss’s “I Was Made for Loving You,” but those aren’t the lyrics I hear. Instead, I hear something else, something much more painful.
I was made for killing you baby,
You were made for killing me
 
I killed Max.
Me.
It was me who killed him.
I killed my best friend.
Knees buckle beneath me and I suddenly can’t breathe. My lungs constrict as I gasp for air, but fail to capture any. Grabbing fistfuls of grass between my fingers, I push my face to the ground and wail, I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry.
I panicked and you died Max.
You died.  
The dark, icy, hole at the center of my chest grows bigger and bigger and bigger until the snake swallows me whole and then I am gone.
“Juna,” Brianne grips my arm and I flinch violently, still here, standing, only thinking I collapsed and threw a fit. “It’s time to go home now. Leslie is joining us for dinner.”
I nod and my lips move, but I don’t know whether the hell I said anything or not. I’ve sunken so far into my brain that I haven’t gotten a clue as to what is real or not. Nightmare and reality have conjoined into one.
My last coherent thought is this: Someone once told me that I was born to save people, to cease the world from unraveling at its seams, but no matter how hard I try to do this I just can’t seem to make things better. The only thing I do seem capable of is making matters worse because as it turns out I’m the one pulling the string from the stitching.

Logan:
This whole funeral thing has got me thinking about when Dad died and I can hardly stand it. It makes me sick.  
I am sick, sad, angry, and confused, but at the same time I am numb too. Is that even possible? I don’t know.
I don’t know anything right now.
Leslie comes over for dinner tonight. My mom makes spaghetti and meatballs, but I’ve completely lost my appetite. No one talks at the dinner table and if anyone did happen to say something…well…what ever was said was obviously forgettable. I think what everyone really wants right now is to be left alone, to just deal with this sadness in our own ways.
After Leslie leaves, Erin and I help my mom clean up the kitchen. Every metallic click of pots and pans makes me feel colder, emptier inside and so I hurry as fast as I can.
When I enter the family room Nellie is talking on the phone with my Aunt Noel, creaking back and forth in our old rocking chair. She smiles like nothing is wrong in the world, her chubby little hand rests in the folds of her mountain-like stomach. What is wrong with her?
I look to my eldest sister sitting on the couch, still swollen from getting her wisdom teeth pulled out. She sits with the rest of my siblings watching Finding Nemo right now, but I’m not so sure their full attention is on the film. Their expressions are dazed and pained to the point where I can’t bear to look at them anymore.   
I slog down the stairs and am about to go into my room when I see a dark figure standing outside.
Juna.
I go out to join her.
She stands erect, her back to the house, arms crossed tightly over her chest. The tips of her toes touch where the edge of the concrete meets the grass. A warm breeze passes underneath the porch, causing the wind chimes to sing their eerie tune.
Juna undid the braid Hannah laced into her hair this morning, so when the wind blows across the property her long brown waves of hair twirl and tangle into wild knots around her face like a stormy ocean. She is a sad beauty with her vacant expression and it makes my insides burn like my stomach is full of acidic waste.
“Hi,” I say cautiously, taking a place beside her.
She says nothing, eyes locked on the darkened woods.
“Is everything okay?” I ask.
What a stupid question.
She neither shakes her head nor nods. Juna swallows before whispering, “Is my name Rachel?”
What is she talking about? “Um, no,” I say.
“Oh,” she murmurs, face still blank. “I have to go for a little while.”
Before I get a chance to reply she takes off in a labored sprint, running barefooted across the lawn, her black dress flapping in the wind. She dives into the air and the last thing I see is her brown tail vanishing into the woods.
I want to disappear with her.

End of Book One