Chapter one

We had been driving fast last night, at least at fifty miles an hour, when we got hit head on. I had hit the ground at fifty miles an hour, and it killed me. It killed me, and it didn't.

Beside me on the cement last night laid my brain, looking like bloody pieces of chewed meat. I could see it—smell it. And I knew, I knew, I knew, I knew, that it was not possible to be thinking, to be comprehending, with chunks of my brain beside me, and yet I was. I was… feeling. I was in pain, brutal, immeasurable pain.

I should be dead, I thought. I should be dead.

Oh, well, I thought, ignoring my cerebral cortex that rested beside me. There was no use trying to make sense of it. If I was not dead now, I would be soon.

I looked, before I lost my ability to see, up at the stars. Where I lived made it difficult to see them; there was always smoke and light pollution. But that night, it was all so clear up above, like the air had taken pity on me, like it wanted me to see one last good thing. The stars were yellow at first, but then blotches of red started to fill them out.

Red stars. Still pretty.

After a few minutes, my vision went black, but I didn't pass out; I think there was just too much going on in my head. Honestly, there was too much going on all over my body—or I think the issue was that there was too little. Everything was slowing down. In my mind, I envisioned my organs as living creatures shutting the lights in their rooms off.

I am dying now, I realized. Life was ending, and I wanted to be upset about that—I knew that I should be upset about that—but I was just so… tired. Everything hurt. I wanted… relief. To sleep.

Sirens were wailing in the distance. I heard them in my ears, which were pressed against the asphalt… I felt the beaded rock cut into the side of my face. I wanted to move, but I couldn't. I had no energy, no desire. This was it.

A new sound came, besides the sirens. A voice calling my name. "Roma! Roma, please." I felt pressure on my hand, and I knew immediately who this voice belonged to.

Selene… Selene… My head was so foggy that I could not recall anything else about her. Just Selene.

"You're… going to be fine! The ambulance is coming." She started to cry in gulps and shakes, sounding absolutely destroyed. "God, I'm so sorry."

She said this multiple times in multiple ways. Sometimes it was, "Sorry," sometimes, "I'm so sorry," sometimes, "I'm sorry."

Sorry for what? I wondered. Death was a part of life. It happened. I didn't understand the guilt; this wasn't her fault. At least, I didn't think it was. I couldn't really remember…

So tired…

She wept quietly as the sirens grew nearer. Her voice was becoming more and more quiet, weaker. I think she was dying, too.

"Roma!" She whispered my name like it was a prayer—voice soft and heart-wrenching. Over and over again. Roma, Roma, Roma. "Come on, it's not even that bad. Roma, come on. Come on, please wake up. I'm sorry, please wake up now. Please, I'm sorry."

I wanted to touch Selene. Not in the sick, ew kind of way, but the innocent touch of a friend. As she cried for me, I just wanted her close. No one wants to feel cold and unloved as they pass from this life to the next.

"I'm… sorry."

Her voice, the city drawl of its magnificence, was the last thing I heard. And, like I said, I died. There wasn't anything poetic to it, nothing metaphorical or meaningful; I didn't understand life's meaning, I didn't see a bright light. It wasn't like anything people talked about.

Nothing happened. Nothing at all. It was just dark and cold.

I woke up freezing and naked. Opening my eyes revealed to me that I was in a morgue and on a silver, metal cart. The mortician wasn't in the room, and for that I was glad. It would be inconvenient to explain that I was alive.

Memories of the accident returned easily.

Alive. Right. How had I managed to survive?

Hopping off of the cart and onto the frozen, tiled ground was terrifying. I was afraid to make any noise to bring anyone in here, afraid to be too quiet, for no one would come, and I'd be left with the dead. Chills ran through my bones, and an ungodly scent washed over me.

I looked down at my insanely pale, veiny feet and saw a string attached to my big toe. After a short pause, I reached down and pulled it off, bringing a large tag with it.

Looking at the fine print of my situation seemed to make it more real.

Name: Jane Doe

Case Number: 12763

Sex: Female

Race: Caucasian

Age: Unknown

Height: 5'11"

Weight: 144

Cause of death: Blunt force trauma

Date of death: 1/30/20

Time of death: One A.M.

Place of death: 6417 Melridge Ln.

Physician: Unknown

Funeral Director: Unknown

My first thought, over the fact that I had just risen from the dead, was that they didn't even know my name. How was that possible? Of course I knew that I had died before I'd gotten to tell them my name, but hadn't Selene told them? She would've.

She would've.

Wait.

More memories returned… Selene in the car wreck. Selene by my side, growing weak.

The agony that coursed through my body was actually enough to cripple me. I fell to my knees as a sob racked through me, from the tips of my toes to the front of my skull. I knew I had to be quiet, but it was so hard. I felt like I couldn't breathe.

She hadn't made it. Selene had to have died, or at the very least sustained grave injuries. I wasn't sure which was worse—her lifeless and still, or in pain. Both were traumatizing for me to comprehend.

She wasn't the best person in the world, but she didn't deserve this. Neither of us did. We both had redeeming qualities. We both held doors open and said please and thank you.

She just couldn't be dead. I could not imagine it.

The two of us had grown up together. We were good friends when we were younger—we played soccer together, starting in kindergarten, before she quit the sport in seventh grade; Selene had never been athletic. In middle and high school we grew apart and stopped hanging out. She fell into a new crowd, a more popular one that drank and partied, and I slunk into the shadows. Selene was never downright mean to me—she had no reason to be, but the friends she hung out with liked to call me names.

I was our town's resident gay kid. I was certain I wasn't the only one, but everyone else seemed to be convinced that that was the case. Being solitary made me vulnerable to attacks from every which way. It was like homosexuality made me some sort of devil spawn, like I wasn't a human being because I was attracted to the same sex. I never understood why people hated us so much.

Girls always asked if I had crushes on them and yelped that I checked them out in the locker room, which was completely untrue. I had really only ever liked Selene, loved her maybe; I liked her in a way I shouldn't have. She never reciprocated the feelings—in fact, she disliked me greatly because of my feelings for her, but that didn't make me care about Selene any less. Nothing would. It was like a disease.

I didn't even understand it at times. No matter what she did, or didn't do, I was always pining after her. If I didn't see her in the halls, my day was ruined. When she spoke in class, I was overjoyed to have an excuse to stare at her. It was always about her.

And now she was dead.

All of that life she'd had was gone.

My chest huffed up and down. Up and down. Up and down. I tried—very hard—to calm myself, but it was difficult. There was nothing to be calm about!

How was this happening? Had I died and gone to hell? The last thought I pondered on for a moment. It was the worst and most likely scenario. It was no secret that I had a thing for girls. And this was the final judgment, being forced into my worst nightmare over something I couldn't even control.

No. I shook my head.

I couldn't just jump to that conclusion. Had I even died? Was this just a dream, or hallucination? A prank?

Once again, I forced myself to remember the accident. But with renewed effort—more imagery, higher senses. Feeling the glass on my skin. Smelling the blood. Hearing Selene cry. All of it. I relived all of it.

No seatbelt. Fighting, though we were always fighting, over the radio. Pain. Twisted metal. Skull cracking. Gravel burning and scalding my skin. Red stars. The blood. Selene—"Roma, Roma, please, I'm sorry. I'm sorry!"

Not much after that.

I wiped my eyes and pulled myself up, unable to draw a direct conclusion. Could be dead. Could be alive. The past did not hold the answers—this much I had determined. First things first, I needed to get a grip. Selene was probably fine; everything was really up in the air right now. I couldn't assume anything.

Clothes. I needed something to cover myself with. Glancing around rewarded me with the sight of a chair in the back filled with bloody getup. It resembled a Lost and Found… with more gore.

I ran over and tore through the pile, desperately searching for the clothes I had worn before the accident. After thirty or forty seconds, I found a torn skirt and a red shirt with white blotches—it used to be white all over. They were mine. I shoved them on, momentarily forgetting about underwear. Right now I needed to focus on the necessities.

Before I pulled away from the pile of clothes, I noticed something that made my heart stop—for the second time. A very short, very sequin beaded dress.

Selene's dress.

"No," I said. "This isn't real."

And yet the sight of it made my previous fears more real.

I backed away and tripped, sprawling to the ground. No. No. I had to be dreaming. This had to be a nightmare. This had to be an illusion—or something! Because she couldn't be gone. She just couldn't be.

My hands reached for my hair, pulling at it, bringing more tears to my eyes. No, no, no. This wasn't it. No. I had to see her. I had to talk to her, at least one last time.

Hysterically, I gazed around at the square grey containers lined against the wall. Which was Selene in? Where was she?

Shakily I stood and made my way over to the makeshift graves. There was a little information taped onto each of the gunmetal plagues—names and dates mostly. One was scripted Jane Doe, and I eagerly pulled the container open.

Upon discarding the sheet that covered her face, I saw that her hair was brown, skin alabaster and bloated. There was trace amounts of blood on her face and gallons on her chest. It looked like she had been impaled.

She was pretty, or she had been, at least. After everything that had happened to her, it was hard to tell. The girl was young, maybe fifteen or sixteen. She'd had her whole life ahead of her, and it was gone already.

I shoved the body back into the grey abyss. Not Selene.

Over and over, again and again, I checked every Jane Doe. Black hair, red, one was a blonde, but not my blonde. It was infuriating.

I opened the last Jane Doe with a sigh, hoping for the best. She was on the end by John Doe and Mary Lee, all having died from unknown causes. This time, miraculously, it was her. I have no idea what I would've done if she wasn't there.

"Selene," I breathed, tortured.

She had always been beautiful, the envy of the school. All the guys wanted to date her, all the girls wanted to be her. Even then, dead and halfway through rigor-mortis, she was a supermodel. She was the type of person one would hear or read about but never expected to exist until one met her.

Her long cornstalk hair she brushed fifty times every morning and night was now dull and full of clumps and tangles. Selene's eyes, which had always been a radiant shade of green, had faded to a gaping, broken blue. And her wonderful skin, which I'd envied during my acne breakouts, that had been exposed to several beauty products daily, was covered in cuts and bruises.

She had always smelled like vanilla, ever since I could remember, but she didn't then. Her perfume had faded away, and the stench that remained was grotesque. Selene was not Selene anymore. She smelled like the rats we had dissected freshman year—the memory of cutting into a tiny ribcage hit me suddenly, and I had to swallow back bile.

Before the hysteria hit me, I reached out and touched her face gently. I noted how distressed her face appeared. She looked so upset, even though she had nothing to be upset about anymore. It was all over.

It was over. She was dead.

"No, no, no, Selene!" I cried, gripping her naked, skinny shoulders tightly. My face contorted into a nasty mask of bleakness. "You're not dead. I won't let you die."

And, without even meaning to, I began to recall that night; her last moments, my last moments with her.

"Do you think I'm a good person?" Selene asked, pressing her lips to the disgusting beer bottle. She was hopelessly drunk.

"You already know what I think about you," I told her. I pretended to be annoyed—maybe I was annoyed. I didn't really know; I was so distracted by her.

She looked down, then laughed. "Do I?"

I had been driving. I had been behind the wheel. She had been my responsibility. How many times had our Drivers Ed teacher told us to never lose focus? God, why had I glanced at the radio? Why had it mattered so much? Why couldn't I have just let it go? Why hadn't I just stared at the stupid road?

It was ironic; I remembered, when I was dying, Selene saying things quite similar to these. But I had ignored them. Death was natural, I'd thought. No one was to blame.

Now, I was thinking that death was only natural for me. Not for Selene. And it was my fault. "You have so much to live for," I murmured. "So much more than me."

"God, piss off! You're so creepy! I don't even like you!" Her eyes were dim, lids falling; she didn't mean the words, not really. I doubted she even knew what was going on with all she'd been drinking. "Why are you so obsessed with me?"

Even though I knew she was drunk, it still hurt. "Why are you saying this?" I demanded, forcing back tears. This wasn't like her.

She casted a look over her shoulder at her boyfriend, then back at me. She didn't say the words, but she didn't have to.

My mood shifted in an instant. "Him," I guessed bleakly. Jake had never liked me and had probably ordered her to come over here to ruin my mood. I didn't know why she listened to him.

All of the drinks, I reminded myself.

Selene stared at me. "I shouldn't have said that. I'm s-sorry." She seemed to mean it. "It's just… Jake is… W," she slurred, "ell, you do look at me a lot. S-some people think it's odd."

So I embarrassed her… Okay. "I'll leave."

As I turned to go, she reached for me, surprising me. "Wait," she said.

"What?" I asked.

Selene's eyes watered, and she seemed noticeably more upset. "I didn't want to hurt your feelings. I'm sorry. Jake is—"

"Why are you even with him?" I asked coldly.

The tears cleared from her eyes all of a sudden, and she shrugged, dazed and devastated. Something had obviously happened between the two of them. "I don't know. It's weird how some things work out."

She was staring at nothing. I should've been used to it; we had been friends for a long time, but she never looked at me. Not really.

I couldn't get over how blue her eyes were. One time, in sixth grade, back when we were friends, she tried out colored contacts. Her eyes had been the most beautiful, most startling azure, but this wasn't like that. They were dull now, and faded.

The mortician had not even closed her eyes, and I wondered if it was because she had died so recently and he had not had time, or because he didn't even care.

"Can you drive me home?" Selene asked, face slightly purple. I assumed the color change was a trick of the light, or maybe heavily loaded eye shadow.

"I didn't bring my car," I said. I was surprised to see her. After we'd spoken earlier, she retreated back to Jake. An hour had passed since then, and I'd assumed she went home already.

"I know. I meant could you drive me with my car?" She jingled her keys. "I think I might have had too much to drink."

She always had too much to drink. "I thought you hated me."

"When did I say that?" Selene asked, genuinely confused.

"You didn't have to. It was implied in the 'Piss off.'"

Selene bit her lip. "You know that was because of Jake. I didn't mean it."

I didn't budge. If she'd wanted to, she could've said no. She didn't have to come over to me and say those wild things. She had free will.

Suddenly angry, she crossed her arms over her chest. "You're always so damn dramatic, Roma. I said I was sorry for what I did earlier!"

My stare was heavy on her, but I eventually sighed. "I didn't bring my license," I told her.

"Are you serious right now?" she exclaimed, slurring her words a little. "Who carries around their license, anyway? We won't get pulled over! I s-swear."

"Selene…" I stared at her, torn. I had always been a model citizen, but I'd take getting a traffic ticket over losing time with Selene any day. "How am I going to get home?"

"You can spend the night at my house."

I perked up at this. It'd been years since I'd seen her room, and I did want to spend more time with her—despite how she'd been acting tonight. "All right, fine."

I hugged her fully, and Selene's head bobbed off to the side. She wasn't there the slightest.

"I hate this song!" Selene hissed.

"I think it's good. Classic, you know?"

"It's lame! Ugh." She reached to change the station and sighed in relief as it settled on a modern day pop song. "This is more like it!"

I looked away from the road to switch it back. "No! I'm driving, I choose what we listen to."

"Aw, come on!" Selene changed it back.

"Put it back on!" I cried. "I like Mozart."

"Why? He's dead."

"So what if he's dead?" I sort of laughed, thinking she was joking. "Michael Jackson is dead, and people still love him."

"Michael who?" she asked. I didn't know if she was joking.

"Jackson. He's really famous."

"He's dead," she corrected.

"So what if he is?" I reached over for the radio dial and flipped it back to the classical music channel.

"Disgusting!" she groaned and put both hands into fighting for control of the radio.

I turned to glare at her. "Stop it!"

"No! Come on, let loose! Listen to some good music."

"Classical music is good music."

"No way! Ugh, don't be a prude." She tried to turn it back, but I elbowed her. Selene could really get on my nerves sometimes. "Seriously?"

"Yes, seriously. Give it a chance."

I moved away from her; the smell was making me sick.

And I fell onto the ground and sobbed and sobbed—there was nothing else to do. What could I do? Everything felt helpless, like I had just gotten sucked into a black hole. She was dead.

Selene was right; I was dramatic, but I couldn't help it. She had been a part of my life since before I could remember. We carpooled to soccer practice twice a week for seven years! She had been my best friend, and then she became more to me with time. Now, she was sort of everything.

And, so, we'd fallen out of touch, but she was still there in my life. I saw her in the halls, I saw her with her friends—at parties, in class. She still existed. She was happy and alive, and I didn't know how I could do anything without her there.

"It's a good song, I swear," she assured me.

"You swear," I echoed jokingly. "Well, I swear that Mozart—"

"Mozart Schmozart," she dismissed.

I gave her a hard look and was surprised to see her staring dead ahead instead of at me. Selene's beautiful mouth had fallen open in absolute horror. I had never seen her look so upset before, and I was just about to ask her what was wrong when—

"Look out!" she screamed in panic.

My eyes returned to the road. A car, coming right towards us! The lights were so bright that I could hardly even see it… hardly even see the road. Hardly. I still registered that there was a car on our side. Approaching fast. Too fast.

Oh, God! Oh, God, God, God, please!

With a small cry, I tried to swerve, but there was no time. I could only watch.

My eyes widened.

Selene's eyes snapped open, and she gasped.