Ashes to Ashes
Chapter One LILLIA
IF IT WERE A NORMAL day, Nadia and I would be listening to the local morning radio show. She actually laughs at the corny jokes they tell, at the slide-whistle sound effects. I don’t think their banter is very funny, but I do like hearing the celebrity gossip. Sometimes, if they are doing a giveaway or contest, Nadia will call using both our cell phones at the same time to up her chances of winning.
But not today. Not the first day back at school since Rennie died. Today as I drive us, the radio stays off. We ride in silence, except for the swish, swish, swish of the wipers as
they push the tiny snowflakes off my windshield.
Nadia tries to peel off her puffer jacket while keeping her seat belt buckled. “Can you turn the heat down? It’s boiling in here.”
I glance at the dashboard. I’ve got the dial set to high, plus my heated seats are cranked. It’s because I can’t get warm. My body’s been cold since I heard the news. “Sorry,” I say.
I pull into a parking spot and watch for a second as everyone slowly marches into school. It’s like a silent movie. No one is talking or joking or laughing. I wonder, will school ever feel normal again, without Rennie here?
I’m sure not.
Sometimes, when I was annoyed with her, I’d tell myself that Rennie wasn’t as big a force as she liked to think she was. That she didn’t hold so much sway, so much power over our school. But now that she’s gone, I know it was true. This place is dead without her.
Nadia unclicks her seat belt. “Do you want me to walk in with you?”
I shake my head. “I’ll be fine.” As Nadia reaches into the backseat for her book bag, I say, “You know, there are supposed to be grief counselors here today. If you feel like talking to anyone. I’ve heard Ms. Chirazo is nice.”
Nadia nods, and she says in a timid voice, “You too, okay?”
I nod and say, “Of course,” but I don’t feel like talking. Not
to anybody. I begged my mom to let me stay home sick today. Begged and pleaded. I haven’t been sleeping well. At all, really. I lie in the dark for hours and hours, but I never fall asleep.
I grab Nadi by the sleeve before she’s out of my car. “Hey. Don’t worry about me. I’m fine.” I know my voice sounds tired, weak, so I smile to compensate.
The worst part is—I know people will be feeling sorry for me. If only they knew the truth, that Rennie hated me before she died. That I betrayed her worse than anyone else could have. When I close my eyes, I keep seeing flashes of what happened in those last moments together. Her showing Reeve the pictures she’d found of me drugging him at homecoming. Her slapping me across the face. Her sobbing, hating me for betraying her.
And then there’s Mary.
The thought of seeing her today makes me want to crawl into a hole. How am I going to tell her about Reeve? And what, exactly, am I going to say? That I made a mistake but it’s over now? I’ve practiced it in my head so many times, but I still don’t know the right words.
As I walk through the parking lot, I keep my eye out for Kat’s car, but I don’t see it either. I owe her a million phone calls. I’m sure she’s pissed at me too.
I keep waiting for this to turn out to be a bad dream. To wake up and have things be the way they were. I wouldn’t even care
if Rennie hated me for the rest of her life for what happened on New Year’s with Reeve. Or if she never spoke to me again. All I want is for her to be alive.
I see her everywhere. The first-floor trophy case, where we’d hang out freshman year when it got too cold to sit outside by the fountain. The janitor’s closet, where we’d hide notes for each other between classes. Her locker, sophomore year.
I feel the tears come, but I don’t want to cry anymore.
I’m at my locker when Ash comes running down the hallway, pushing her way past people to get to me. “Lil,” she moans, and she throws her arms around me, sobbing hysterically. I have the uncharitable thought that it’s like she’s in a movie about a girl who died in a car accident. Other people in the hallway turn and look at us.
I let her cry in my arms for a minute, and then I break away from her. “I’m gonna go get a juice at the vending machine,” I say. “Do you want anything?” I’m not trying to be cold, but I can’t deal with her right now. It’s just too much.
She shakes her head. “I’ll come with you, though.”
“No, stay here. I’ll be right back,” I say. I give her a peck on the cheek and dart away. I’m halfway down the hall, thinking maybe I’ll just keep walking, maybe I’ll walk right out of here and go back home, when someone grabs my arm from behind me.
“Lil,” he says. “You hanging in there?”
“Yes.” Just barely.
Alex doesn’t look so good either. He has shadows under his eyes, stubble on his chin. He rubs his eyes and looks around and then says, “I keep expecting to see Rennie. It feels . . . really empty here without her. It’s like nobody knows what to do anymore without her here to tell us.”
That’s exactly how it feels. Exactly. And it’s such a relief that someone gets it. I let out a breath that comes out more like a gasp, and Alex reaches for me and I let him hold me, and it feels like his arms are the only thing keeping me upright.
I don’t know what, if anything, Alex knows about the things that went down between Reeve, Rennie, and me on New Year’s Eve, but I’m so thankful that he’s here right now. This is who he’s always been to me, the person who knows what I need, without me having to ask. Even when I don’t deserve it.