Prologue

IT was the worst night of Theo Aldridge's life. It was also going to be his last. Well, that was the plan; he just hadn't been able to go through with it yet, although not for lack of trying.

At first, everything had gone according to plan. He waited for his foster parents to go to bed, and he locked his door in case one of his rambunctious foster siblings tried to barge in. Theo reached into the back of his bottom dresser drawer and retrieved the noose he had fashioned out of several winter scarves that he had sewed together. It was a bit tricky to secure the end of the homemade noose to his ceiling fan but not difficult enough to dissuade him.

He rolled his desk chair into the middle of the room. Theo locked the wheels and then raised his eyes. The noose dangled in front of his face, swaying gently. Staring directly at his imminent death probably should have given him some sort of ominous feeling or revelation. Instead, the mismatched, brightly colored scarves made him think of Christmas.

It was a nice last thought.

His legs shook only a little as he balanced carefully on the chair. Theo slipped the noose around his neck. He took a deep breath. Hopefully his foster family would understand once they read the letter he left them. The envelope sat on his neatly made bed propped up against a pillow. They were good people, and they didn't deserve his misery.

Before he could talk himself out of it, Theo closed his eyes tightly and jumped, purposefully kicking the chair over. The soft scarves suddenly stretched, gripping his throat in a vice. On instinct, he sucked in a quick breath and held it. In no time at all, his lungs started to burn, and his peripheral vision began fading to black.

Theo released his final breath.

And then he took another.

Surprised, Theo opened his eyes. The noose was still wound unmercifully around his neck, and he was still suspended above the floor by his ceiling fan. Experimentally, he inhaled again. Theo's lungs expanded until his ribs ached.

That wasn't right. It couldn't be right. He exhaled and then took several more deep breaths just to be sure.

The unrelenting pressure of the noose was certainly uncomfortable, but he definitely wasn't dying. He could breathe unimpeded for Pete's sake.

It took him almost two hours to extricate himself from the makeshift gallows. He really should not have kicked the chair so far away.

From there, the night continued to go south.

Theo popped the blades out of his foster mom's razor and made deep, vertical cuts on the underside of both his arms. The bleeding stopped after five minutes. He tried downing a combination of Advil and Benadryl, but he couldn't swallow more than ten pills before he was slumped over the toilet bowl emptying his stomach.

Next he went to the kitchen for a plastic bag. He placed it over his head and pinched the bag shut beneath his jaw. He waited for ten minutes, but his attempt at suffocation was just as successful as his earlier attempt at hanging. In a last ditch effort, Theo filled the bathtub and tried to drown himself, but that required more will power than even he had.

With his limited access to stronger drugs—prescription or otherwise—and the lack of firearms in the house, Theo found himself out of options.

He retreated to his bed for the rest of the night, completely exhausted, and collapsed on top of the blankets. Tomorrow was a new day, as his dad used to be so fond of saying.

Maybe death would be kinder in the morning.