THE SAVIOR: Final Chapter
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.
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.
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.
A scream pierces my ears as I race up the lawn’s slope.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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!
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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
End of Book One