Part 2

117 days left

Gail

Evan Johnson stopped me in the main entrance, a single red rose in hand. And then in mine. "You have a date for homecoming?"

I knew the invitation wasn't for me, but that's not why I handed it back. "No."

"No?"

"No."

I couldn't imagine my sister caught dead at homecoming with a boy even Revie believed upheld a "friend with benefits" relationship with Hazel Thorpe. I left before more could be said. The guilt sunk in seconds after my back turned.

Sydney found me before I could get to class. "You look sick, Gail."

"Evan asked you to Homecoming."

"Me or Miranda?"

"I guess he was asking Miranda…"

"And what'd you say?"

"No."

"No?!"

"Yes!"

"You said no to Evan Johnson?"

"No, you said no to Evan Johnson."

"You didn't tell him you weren't me?"

"Was he trying to ask you or Miranda?"

There was a pause after that, because we both knew. Practically spewing with unnecessary anger, Sydney turned her back to me and started away. By the time I decided to follow her, she already disappeared into the bathroom. I waited outside the door for an awkwardly long time until Miranda walked out of it, as angry as Sydney had been. The sight of each other turned both of us in different directions.

Sydney

September 30th- There's a 1 in 200 million chance of being an identical triplet. Statistically, I'm considered lucky.

-Sydney Jerkins

Miranda

"That for me?" I pointed to the lone rose on the table beside Evan. The lunch bell had just rung, and he sat as the usual spot with his three friends.

Evan glared up at me. "You said no."

"My sister said no."

"Wait," Hazel's nearly squeaky voice interrupted. She gasped so hard a shriek came out. "You're one of those triplets, aren't you?" I'd heard a lot about her and her little pet named Marci, but the rumors couldn't prepare me for their in-person obnoxiousness.

"No way," Marci joined. She tucked a lock of her dark hair behind her ear to get a better look at me. "That's, like, so cool."

"Wait," Hazel interrupted again, small hand clutched around Evan's firm arm. It tensed. "You asked somebody to homecoming? Without telling us?" She looked up and down me before turning away completely, shoulders and all. "You've got to be kidding."

Evan turned towards her. "What now?"

"You're already ruining our senior homecoming." She tilted her head back to look over her shoulder and examine me again.

Carter turned to face her now. Patience fought the annoyance that already infected Evan's demeanor and threatened to impede his own. "And just how is she—"

"Miranda," I corrected.

"Miranda going to ruin homecoming?"

"We always go in a group of four," Hazel complained. "Evan takes me and you take Marci and that way we all get a date, you know? But if Evan takes her, and you take me, then Marci will be all alone."

"Who said he wouldn't take me?" Marci protested.

"It's a hypothetical thing so it doesn't even matter." Hazel turned herself back to me, which encouraged everybody to do the same until I joined the conversation again. "Sorry, honey. He's not asking you." She rolled the rose by the stem between the table top and her forefinger.

I turned to the less attractive one. He was still sort of cute once you got used to looking at him and his slightly big nose. Attractive boys have an amazing ability to befriend other attractive boys. It's like a superpower. "Well given I came here with my hopes up for being asked, any chance you'd want to?"

Carter laughed shyly. "I already asked this gal." He elbowed Marci playfully.

"No you didn't," the brunette fired back, offended by nothing.

Carter sighed. "Yes I did. Before school."

"But there wasn't a sign or present," she protested. "I thought you were, like, gonna do it again or something."

"Wait, you asked Marci already?" Hazel growled in a near-whisper. Her unnaturally high voice dropped at least an octave.

"Apparently not," Carter complained.

Evan ripped the rose out from under Hazel's finger. "Here." He handed it to me. "You still wanna?"

I looked around at the group I'd be going with. Carter rolled his eyes. "And now we've scared her off."

"No you haven't," I reassured him, though I wasn't quite sure if I believed myself. I took the flower and shared a brief smile with Evan before the tension floating overhead encouraged otherwise. Carter patted the open bench seat next to him and I slowly filled it. "Thanks."

Hazel avoided my eyes but I didn't mind. She'd come around eventually. I refused to lose faith in the simple truth at play: all high schoolers sucked. And then we found people that sucked in the same ways we did and that's how we got along. Something told me Hazel and I would get along just fine…

"So how come I've never seen you guys together?" Carter started in attempt to blow away the rigid atmosphere.

"My sisters?" I clarified, though who else could he have been referring to… "I don't tend to affiliate myself with them."

"Hard to do considering you guys share a face," Evan scoffed.

"And the similarities end there," I concluded. "They're both losers."

That caught Hazel's previously inexistent attention. "How so?"

"Well Gail thinks she rules the world but she barely has a decent hold on her own. And Sydney's a nobody."

"And you?" Hazel challenged.

"What about me?"

"What makes you better than your 'loser' sisters?"

"Well," I looked around the cafeteria. Several distant eyes waited for more to happen between the five of us so they and their friends could talk about it next period. "I'm sitting here, aren't I?"

For that, Hazel smiled. And Marci smiled because Hazel was smiling. And Carter smiled because the air was clean again, and all of us could breathe for the first time since I walked up to them in the first place. And Evan smirked, too, after I beamed at him.

"So, Miranda," Hazel started again. I quickly realized that she often spoke first, and when she didn't, she made sure to be last. "Did you come from somewhere exotic or cool?"

"You mean compared to this shit hole? Yeah."

They all laughed curtly. My interrogation ended because Hazel decided that's all she had to know. I guessed she wanted me to remain as mysterious as possible to avoid anything that would embarrass her for befriending the new girl. That or she didn't care. She pointed to Marci's unfinished energy bar. "You know those make you fat, right?"

"That's why I ate half," Marci defended.

Hazel nodded and took a bite before throwing it towards the trashcan. It missed, but a freshman bent to pick it up. "Thanks, kid," Evan yelled as the boy walked away, head down.

"So you're in our homecoming group now," Hazel chirped to me.

"I guess."

I turned to Evan who nodded to confirm it.

"That'll be fun." I tried to decipher the tone of her words but Carter subtly shook his head to tell me it wasn't worth the effort.

"There's a party at Marci's afterward," Evan continued for her.

"Assuming you're, you know, okay with that," Hazel added.

I glared at her. "Yeah, I'm okay with that."

"Good." Her bright green eyes shone with mischief, but they had been since I sat down, leading me to believe they always looked that way. Evan started to eat the discarded crust of her sandwich and she scowled at him. He pretended not to notice.

We continued to talk about nothing worth sharing, though since most of the words came out of Hazel's mouth, they seemed important. The longer I spent there, the more she pretended to look like she enjoyed my company. I matched until all five of us seemed to like each other.

I knew better, though. Girls weren't simple, and Hazel was no less guilty of that than me.

112 days left

Gail

"Kat," Revie started, "I don't think you have much validity here."

"That's just unfair!" The skinny girl gasped.

"You listen to that girly boy band crap," Kendal added.

"But the Beatles were a boy band!"

Kendal gasped. Revie bit his lip and hunched farther over himself than usual to avoid the war about to break out before him. For his sake, I walked closer.

"You take that back," Kendal growled. His intensely blue eyes stared daggers into hers.

"Am I wrong?"

"A hundred percent."

"They were a band. Of boys. By definition they were a boy band."

"No, boy bands are just a ton of puss—"

"I'm not trying to compare them to One Direct—"

"Don't you dare bring One Direction into this!"

"I wasn't going to!"

Their words collided. Revie's strong gaze found mine in the chaos. He smirked for the reprieve. I shook my head as he straightened, and his grin widened. "What do you have to say about it, Gail?" he yelled over his friends. Kendal and Kat fell silent, leaving me under the intense pressure of all of their prying eyes as I joined the table.

"I really don't need to get involved in this."

"No, what do you think?" Kendal pried kindly despite the intense look in his eyes.

"Please don't make me answer that question."

"Answer it," Kat piped.

"Please," Revie begged.

I picked my words carefully as if jumbled in a dish of jellybeans. "I could be wrong… But I always thought The Beatles were the first boy band."

The table hushed. Kendal grabbed his sandwich to occupy his jittery hands. "Well you're wrong." Nobody elaborated after that. Revie obviously knew better, and Kat was too satisfied with my answer, leaving a stupid grin on her cute face.

She wore the 90's today, which really meant she wore Rachael Green from the show Friends. The dangerously short pencil skirt partnered a red crop top, jean jacket and booties that slid over her black pantyhose. I studied the sexy getup. "You panning on getting asked today?"

Kat looked at her outfit and laughed. "I've never had a date to homecoming and that's not changing this year."

"But what if somebody asks you?"

"She says no," Kendal interrupted. "We all do. Kat's already rejected two guys this year."

"What?"

"We like to go as friends. Dates ruin that for us."

"We're each other's dates," Revie clarified.

"It's always been that way and we've always had a good time," Kendal explained despite me never questioning it in the first place.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," Kat concluded. "Besides it's the Monday before homecoming. Nobody's crazy enough to get a date this late."

They finally stopped talking so I could respond, though in the place of words came nervous laughter.

"You're in our group," Kendal quickly clarified. "I thought that was clear."

I tried not to look too relieved. "So we technically do have dates," I said.

"Sure," Kat agreed. "But if that's true I call Gail."

Revie laughed. "Real funny, Kit."

"I'll take Gail," Kendal said, oddly nervous. If I didn't know better, I'd assume they were keeping something from me. But I did know better, because I was the secret-keeper of the group, and I knew none of their flaws could outweigh mine.

"Why don't we let Gail pick a date," Revie offered, strangely level headed compared to his frantic friends, who's vivaciousness always exaggerated Revie's placidity in comparison.

"Now I'm uncomfortable," I complained. They all laughed and waited for my real answer. "Well I already agreed with Kat today so I can't side with her again. And I don't even know if Kendal will forgive me by homecoming…"

He laughed and winked at me. I chuckled back and nodded toward Revie. "So that really only gives me one option, doesn't it?"

Kat groaned but didn't mean it. And then she did. She nodded toward Hazel's table, which Miranda neared. "Why?"

My stomach sank like a rock. "She doesn't know what's good for her."

"Just let her do what she wants," Kendal said through a mouthful of food. "She's not our Jerkin anyway."

"But she's our Jerkin's sister," Kat said. "Which means it's our duty to protect her against the evils of Hazel Thorpe and her posse."

"It's a useless effort, guys," I nearly whispered. "She's not worth it. Trust me." They all gracefully took my advice, though I failed to. As the rest of them moved on to talk about important, non-homecoming things, I studied my sister, concerned because I really did love her.

Of course, I did the loving part because it was mandatory.

Miranda

"So I'm thinking we all wear blue," Hazel started as I sat down to join them. They didn't pay me much attention, already used to the company. Evan made room for me, and Hazel glared at us rudely as if I'd interrupted her grand speech. "Because different shades of blue match and that way our pictures won't be ruined, you know?"

"I already got a pink dress," Marci argued.

I agreed. "Mine's red."

Hazel licked her top lip while she thought about it. "Light or dark pink."

"Light."

"Fine."

"Our pictures will be okay," Carter reassured her. "None of us are getting married."

Evan warned his friend against his words with a brief shake of his head, but like the rest of their regular head shakes, it was too late.

"God, Carter, this is our last homecoming," Hazel snapped as though it was news. "And after this we'll all go to college, and if this is the last time we're all together then I want to be able to show my kids how I looked with my best friends at our homecoming. So yeah, I want it to look good."

"What about prom?" Evan asked mid eye-roll.

"Things can change between now and prom. Who knows who'd be in those pictures."

"Well if we aren't in the prom pictures, are we even good enough friends to be worth showing to your future kids?" joined Carter.

"The pictures have to look good, okay? Just because I want them to. And you guys care about what I care about, right?"

"Sure, Hazel." Evan took her crust to eat. "So long as we're at the restaurant by 6:30."

"Seven," Hazel snapped. "I told you to make the reservation for seven."

"Well now it's for 6:30."

"What restaurant are we going to, anyway?" I asked. Evan kept me out of the group chat to save me from the drama. I started to see why.

"Mario's," Marci answered. "It's an Italian place in the mall."

"Which is in the city," Carter complained.

"Which is 45 minutes away from where we're taking pictures," Evan added.

"Which wouldn't be a problem if you made the reservation for seven," Hazel shrieked.

"We don't need to take pictures until 6:15, Hazel. The sun won't even stay up that long!"

"But we could have our silhouettes in the sunset!"

"Why?" the boys asked together.

"Because we want to," Marci explained, though we all knew she's not the one who wanted that.

"So when do we get to the dance?" I asked.

"We don't go to the dance," Hazel spat. "The dance is for freshman and goodie-two-shoes."

"From dinner we go straight to the party," Evan explained.

"Which is at Marci's house," I concluded. They all nodded, except for Hazel who busied herself displaying her disgust for my ignorance. The whole ordeal seemed to be more effort than it was worth, but I stayed hopeful because Carter and Evan hated the process more than I did, and Marci was only extreme because Hazel was. "How many people normally show up."

Hazel laughed. "However many want to."

"My parents don't care," Marci explained. "They just, like, want me to have fun."

"That's nice," I lied. It all confused me. Why go out on the day of the dance if we didn't go to the dance at all? Why, then, wouldn't we just dress up any random Saturday and have a fancy dinner and party afterwards? I suppose the dance gave us an excuse to do just that, but still. And what's the point of parents if you don't have to at least pretend that they don't know what you're doing late at night? "Can't wait."

"Something wrong?" Hazel asked, lip drooped in fake pity. "We wouldn't want you to be uncomfortable, right Evan?" She hung on his shoulder. He looked away but didn't make an attempt to shake her off.

Everybody stared apologetically for Hazel's rudeness, even Marci, though nobody said anything to her or me, making me feel completely alone against her. I probably was. "I'm not like that, Hazel."

Hazel laughed. "We'll see."

"Would it kill you to be decent?" Carter finally snapped.

Hazel just stuck her nose up and kept eating her lunch. She didn't let go of Evan's arm, and I considered latching onto the one I sat next to but decided against it.

I spent the last few minutes left in lunch learning about how Evan had managed to convince one of his football friends to take Hazel to homecoming, which she forced him to do because it was his fault for asking me and not her. Tanner, the new date, was less than second best for Hazel, but it was the Monday before homecoming and nobody was asking anybody anymore. So Tanner, being "cuter than average" and all, would have to do. I hadn't met him yet, but Evan seemed to be excited for both of them, and the idea of having more testosterone in the group thrilled Carter. Marci remained indifferent, but she was indifferent about everything, so I didn't read into it.

After lunch I had an off period which I spent with nobody and then Spanish with Evan.

He leaned forward to whisper in my ear three times during class: two to tell inappropriate jokes about the kid diagonal to both of us that smelled like a public bathroom, and the other to ask for an answer. Regardless, all three times ended in an exchange of silent grins and still eye contact and the world would stop for just a moment.

And then reality would crash back, and I would remember to push down instincts such as giggling and nervousness and even the involuntary reddening of my cheeks. Just smile, Miranda. But not too much, Miranda. And don't you dare start a conversation. Then I'd be desperate. Amongst the very few things I did know, I knew Evan Johnson didn't date desperate girls. Not after Hazel, anyway.

The bell rang and I squeezed his hand before heading out. "See you later."

He grabbed my fingers before they could slip away. "I can walk you to your car."

"But then you'd be walking my sisters to the car and I don't think either of us wants that." I squeezed his hand again and he let go after a second of consideration. I waved with my newly freed fingers and turned away. "Bye, Evan."

"Bye, Mandy."

I whipped to face him and backed into the door as I spoke. "It's Miranda."

"You sure?"

I laughed because I knew that's all he wanted, really. It relieved him, which relieved me.

"See you tomorrow, Evan."

"Bye, Miranda."

Sydney

October 5th- Hate isn't the opposite of love. Loss is.

-Sydney Jerkins

Miranda disappeared the second we got home from school. I fled to my room to do homework but finished that within an hour. Dad came home after that and we all yelled hello to each other before he started cooking. Netflix filled another hour before Dad called to announce dinner.

We ate lasagna. Dad cooked almost as well as Mom could, though he always missed something. None of us ever knew what that something was. We never would. Our secret family ingredients died with Mom, leaving us with good food that used to be great.

Dad asked us about our day, for which he received incomplete answers. We asked the same, and he responded the same, and then we all joked about nonsense for the rest of dinner. Just Dad and his girls. The girls and Dad. Broken and beautiful but never perfect.

"I'm gonna watch a movie in a bit if you want to join me. I'll pick it, though, because Gail picked last time and we aren't doing that nonsense again." The man that married my mom would say "bullshit" instead of "nonsense," but Mom had complained about how he cursed around us, and ever since she died he stopped completely.

Ten minutes after he suggested it, Dad, Gail and I sat on the couch together. Miranda remained tucked away somewhere else.

He supported one of our heads on each of his shoulders and Gail controlled the remote because we rendered both of his arms useless. Dad decided on an R movie and proceeded to cover both of our eyes during the sex scenes with his obnoxiously large hands. We complained and pushed him away every time, and he would have to shove us both off him to reach for the remote and fast forward. And then he'd stop once the movie was clean again and settle back down for Gail and me to rest our heads where they once were. Gail would have to rewind every time—it happened five times during the movie—so we could hear the dialogue Dad skipped over in his frantic attempt to keep us innocent.

He never tried to shield us from violent scenes. I thought the throat slitting and blood splatter was more worth hiding from me than boobs, considering I already had those, but apparently not.

The movie ended, but we didn't move. Dad squeezed both of us against him. His loneliness saddened me more than mine, because I didn't know if his was curable. He loved Mom more than anybody could love somebody else. The two of them let their girls witness every fight and every kiss and every "I love you." I might have been young, but I knew what they shared was love. Real love. The kind in movies and books that just doesn't exist for normal people. But my parents weren't normal people. Not to me.

When she died, Dad had gotten back every ounce of love that he'd poured into Mom in the form of loss. He had loved her so much. And he had lost her just as hard. Wounds like that aren't curable. Not really.

He started doing a lot of things he hadn't done when Mom was around, like read and cry. I'd only ever seen him do the latter twice: at Mom's funeral, and at the end of Titanic. He hadn't been seeing the movie for the first time, but it had been his first time seeing it without Mom, which mattered more for a reason I knew but couldn't explain.

We all got up after a few minutes to go to bed. Dad started the "I love you" exchange, and I made sure to hug him longer than I normally did, because I wanted him to know that really did love him, and actions spoke more truth than words could.

108 days left

Gail

Revie had biked to school in the morning because his car had broken down. I offered to walk him to the bike rack after school got out. "So what's your deal, Gail?" he asked matter-of-factly after many seconds of awkward silence.

"My deal?"

He didn't bother to look up from the ground. "What are you doing with your life?"

"You could ask me anything and that's what you come up with?"

He shrugged. "Don't you have an answer?"

"I don't know," I retorted defensively. "I'm sort of just along for the ride."

"No," he drew out, deep in thought.

"No?"

"You don't strike me as granola."

"I never said I was granola."

"But you insinuated it."

"Just because I go with the flow doesn't mean I'm granola."

"Go with the flow, huh?" Revie pondered. "That's interesting."

I laughed. "Why did you say that like you didn't believe it?" I tried to find his downcast eyes with mine but he refused to look up.

"I didn't."

"You totally just did."

The blood left his face. "Nope. I just think it's interesting."

"You did it again!" I laughed.

"What?"

"That passive thing with your voice."

"I don't do a passive thing," he growled.

"You just did," I accused like a 10-year-old.

He finally turned up. "Fine. If I'm passive than you're granola."

"I'm not granola!"

"You just go with the flow," he concluded.

"Exactly."

"Okay," he agreed through his reluctant smirk.

"What do you find so wrong with that?"

He didn't respond, just walked a little faster so I had to jog for a few steps to keep up.

"Revie—"

"There's nothing wrong with it. It's just… boring."

"So now I'm boring?"

"I didn't say that."

"Now this is just annoying."

He stopped walking to really look at me, and I dove into his dark eyes, unable to look away. "You're not boring. And you don't just 'go with the flow.' There's something very different about you."

And for a terrifying moment, I thought he'd figured it out. Our secret.

Miranda's secret.

The one thing I'd been sure was safe since the move. Or at least so I thought. For the first time since school started, I questioned if the secret would be harder to keep than we thought.

But how'd he know? Who tipped him off?

Sydney wouldn't.

Right?

My heart pounded, and I waited for him to continue, unable to speak.

"I just can't figure it out."

I let out my held breath and forced a smile on my presumably pale face. Anxiousness clogged my chest, and I forced my voice to come out even. "So now you think you know me better than I do?"

"No. I just know you're not boring."

"So what am I?"

"You're Gail."

"Original."

He grinned and stared back at the ground. "So I'm not a detective."

"The stop acting like it."

"Sue me."

We kept walking, and I fiddled with my backpack straps to spend some of my nerves through my jittery fingers. "So what's your 'purpose?'"

"To appreciate every day for what it's worth."

"Okay, grandpa."

Revie shrugged. "I think we all should live like every day is our last, because if it's not ours, it's somebody else's."

"Of course it is. People die every day."

"Okay, know-it-all."

"And now I'm a know-it-all?"

"That's exactly what a know-it-all would say."

I calmed enough to give into the strange warmth of his damper company and chuckle. "Shut up."

"All I'm saying is that for all you know, the things worth doing were only possible yesterday."

"That's very poetic."

"Naw, Kendal's the poet. I'm just in-tune with reality."

"That's dangerous."

"You're not wrong."

The bike rack finally rolled into view. Revie jogged over to unlock his and I yelled after him. "Why didn't you just get a ride?"

"I live too far away," he yelled back, and the grim mask covering the kid beneath disappeared for a moment. "I missed first and second period just getting here."

"Do you want a ride back?"

"Naw." He walked back to me, and we started for the parking lot with the bike between us. "I try not to torture the people I like."

I considered teasing him for blabbing about his feelings, but that would've been dishonest to my own. "I like you too," I admitted, unsure to what degree but sure nonetheless.

Revie smiled before looking down to focus on shoving his bike tires through the grass. "Thanks."

"No problem."

To my horror, he didn't say anything after that. The silence in which Revie found so much unexplainable comfort made my heart swell in my chest from uneasiness. "So," I tried.

Revie laughed, and the sweet sound both panicked and relieved me. "So."

Miranda

Violent tapping at my car window jerked me away from the nap that threatened to steal my consciousness, and I turned to find Carter laughing behind it. I rolled down the glass barrier and he didn't hesitate to lean against the new ledge. "What are you still doing here?"

"Waiting for my sisters," I sighed. "You?"

He nodded to the congregating people outside. "Everybody else seems keen on staying."

"Not me."

"You going to the game tonight?"

"Probably not."

"Oh, come on. It's your last Homecoming game."

"Except I never had a first through third so it's actually my first."

"Which is just as exciting!"

"Let's agree to disagree."

"Evan's playing."

"So you want me to sit in the stands without him and either spend the night alone or let Hazel drive me crazy?"

"Fair enough."

I turned forward again, tired of the conversation simply because I wasn't expecting it to happen in the first place. "I swear I'm about to leave her again," I muttered, impatient as more people left the building that didn't look just like me.

"Her as in…"

"My sisters."

"So them," he corrected.

"Yeah, whatever."

"Your nose gets all wrinkly when you get defensive," he snickered.

"What?"

"Your nose." He felt the need to point, and I swatted his hand away. "It's cute."

"Whatever."

"You're very unlikeable, you know that?"

"That's rash."

"It's the truth."

"I know."

"So why don't you lighten up?"

"If I'm so unbearable, why are you still here?"

He bit his lip to avoid smiling but did anyway. "Tuché."

"You should smile less."

"Why's that?"

"It's adorable," I sighed. "And then I find myself vaguely attracted to you which really complicates things."

"You're incredible."

"You say that like it's a bad thing."

He furrowed his brow and let up from against my window. "It might be."

"It probably is." I put on my sunglasses to avoid the disarming stare of this wide chocolate eyes. "You should go before somebody sees us and makes rumors."

"Fine." He lazily pushed off my car and started away.

I started rolling up the window. "See you tomorrow."

"Don't be late," he teased, muttering "or she'll kill us all," as he slid away.

Gail

We watched a freshman boy ask out a girl with a corny sign. I groaned.

"Somebody's upset with life," Revie accused.

"I hate homecoming proposals," I explained. "There should be one proposal in your life, and it's the one asking for marriage."

"How should he ask?"

"It should be something simple. He shouldn't guilt her into saying yes because it's so over-the-top she feels bad rejecting the guy, you know? Why can't he just ask her in private to know how she really feels?"

"What if he's not doing it for her?"

"Who else would he be doing it for?"

"What if he's doing it for himself?"

"How so?"

He straightened to look forward as we strolled. "Well, say she says yes."

I nodded.

"Then everybody watching knows that girl said yes to him of all other guys."

"But what if she says no?"

"That's a risk he has to be willing to take."

"You didn't take it," I challenged.

"What?"

"I'm technically your homecoming date. And you didn't even have to ask me."

"That wasn't my choice."

"But what if it was?"

"Who's to say I would've asked you?"

"Would you?"

He looked down in failed attempt to hide his smirk. "I don't know. Would you've said yes?"

"That's just a risk you'll have to take," I singsonged.

"You said yourself you hate stupid homecoming proposals."

"I thought the guy did it for himself," I teased.

"We're already going together," he considered. "So the only reason I'd have for asking you is for the rest of the school to see. But we're alone."

"So it's not worth it?"

"Exactly."

We rounded the corner into the lot, consequently filled with upperclassmen slowly filing into their cars. Chatter filled the space, and nobody rushed to escape the beautiful autumn day with their friends. The crowd resembled a block party outside of the school, and the stark change in atmosphere from our previously calm serenity made my heart hammer against my ribs. Revie's smirk widened mischievously as my eyes widened, and we both turned to each other.

"Don't you dare," I threatened.

"Dare what?"

"Ask me."

"Oh, I won't ask you. That would be a useless exercise."

I relaxed slightly as we walked towards my car, too relieved by his reassurance to spot the loop-hole he'd created.

Then he started yelling, and my panic resurfaced to form a nervous knot in my gut.

"Hey everybody!" Revie yelled. The overwhelming chatter overpowered him, but that didn't keep him from trying. "Everybody!" Boyishness exploded out of him, leaving the darkness behind. For a moment amazement drowned by horror, though that moment ended when bystanders turned to listed.

"Shut up," I begged.

He ignored me. "I need your attention!" When he got most of it, he continued. "I have a date to Homecoming!"

"Revie, stop."

"And I need all of you to know that my date is this girl!" He pulled me in front of him and his bike trapped me there, under the judgmental stares of the strangers that doubled as my peers. "And she's too good for me!"

"You know when I said I liked you?"

"But she's going with me regardless!"

"I take it back."

I started away, but he hugged me against him to keep me there. I huffed in his grip. Like thunder, his shouts continued over my head. "And I need every single one of you guys to envy me! For being this damn lucky! Because this girl deserves the world!"

People started cheering for him and I leaned into his chest behind me, desperate to fall through and run away.

"But the best I could give her was me!"

Our audience clapped and cheered. Revie opened his mouth again but I spun to face him before more demoralization could leave his mouth. "What can I do to make you shut up?"

He grinned. "Kiss me."

"What?"

"Kiss me and I'll stop."

"What is this? Kindergarten?"

Revie shrugged and took a deep breath. He stood on his toes to readdress the crowd over my head.

I yanked him back down by his collar. "Please stop."

"Make me."

I stalled by looking into this dark, endless eyes, and before I could register moving at all, our faces neared. I sealed my eyes closed to ignore the cat-calls and hoots from behind me, and his breath warmed my face.

Then a horn honked from what sounded like feet away, and a scream parted my lips. I nearly jumped out of my own skin and subsequently away from Revie's embrace. Kat hung out of her driver's seat window, blocking us from our fans. "Get a room!"

"Get out of here," Revie yelled back.

I laughed at both of them.

"Gail!" Miranda yelled from our parked car. "Come on!"

"Just hold on," I yelled back.

"No, that's what I've been doing for the past half hour! Let's go!"

I squeezed Revie's arm. "I'm gonna go."

"Wait."

"For what?"

Kat shook her head and fell back into her seat to drive away, radio blaring.

Revie sighed. "Never mind." His shoulders shank down, and he waved me on. "Just go."

"I'm sorry," I tried.

He reassured me with a weak grin. "See you tomorrow?"

I laughed. "I am your date, aren't I?"

"Just had to be sure," he teased as I started away. "Something tells me you embarrass easy."

"What gave it away?"

Miranda honked. "Come on, Gail!"

"Bye," I called.

He mounted his bike and rode away before either of us could say more.

107 days left

Sydney

October 17th- Homecoming isn't lame. It's going alone that's lame.

-Sydney Jerkins

Miranda

Sydney didn't go to homecoming. In fact, the only evidence of her existing that night is a picture of her posing next to Gail in my red dress for Dad's sake, because she didn't have one of her own. After that she disappeared. Not that anybody noticed… Nobody ever noticed. Except for me and Gail, but we were too constantly exhausted by her to care.

I liked Tanner. He was funny enough that none of us had to pity laugh, and he made my being there less awkward. Hazel's mom met us at the barn where we were taking pictures with her excessive camera. She used a wide field lens to take portraits despite being a "really good photographer" according to Marci. Us three girls posed in every ridiculous way possible until our creativity ended with Hazel on Marci's shoulders and me on the ground between her legs with my chin in my hands. I hated it for more reasons than rolling in the dirt, but Mrs. Thorpe thought it was "cuter than hell."

The boys conversed until they were summoned, and we took more ridiculous pictures with them until we decided to split into our dates. Evan and I got one photo, as did Marci and Carter, which left the next half hour for Hazel to pose with Tanner.

After a while, Mrs. Thorpe called Evan over to take a picture with her daughter for "old time's sake" and Hazel made a show of how ridiculous that would be despite how much she also seemed to want it. She even shoved Tanner out of the way to make room.

Evan gave my arm a reassuring squeeze before he stepped into the shot. He cooperated for the first three clicks, but then Hazel adopted the idea of recreating all their old photos from the three years prior. After much debate, she had him picking her up, spinning her around, and kissing her cheek.

I wasn't the jealous type, especially not of Hazel, but my heart still jumped uncomfortably in my chest as I watched my date and his ex. He kept looking at me which just made it worse, and after a minute of protesting he stopped fighting her. They laughed, and Mrs. Thorpe just kept taking pictures until there was enough proof that Hazel did in fact have two dates at her senior homecoming.

Which would leave me dateless.

"Hey, Miranda." Carter pulled me into the conversation with Marci and Tanner. I pretended to enjoy the distraction while glancing over my shoulder to watch Evan. He looked uncomfortable but not enough to make my heart stop pounding. Hazel found my eyes and smiled. I forced myself to do the same.

Evan eventually joined us so Hazel could bask in the camera flash alone for awhile. I pretended not to see him before his firm hands could slide around my waist and tighten gently to pull me against him. I buried my shock and leaned into it. He bent down to whisper "I'm sorry" in my ear.

I turned up until our eyes met. "For what?"

He joined the circle while we talked. Marci left to take more pictures with Hazel and the boys watched their phones until it was time to go.

Carter eventually herded the rest of the girls, including Mrs. Thorpe, into their respective cars, and we started for Mario's.

Evan yelled something over the music.

"What?!"

"I'm sorry she did that!" Neither of us tried to turn down the stereo and Bruno Mars continued to break up our words.

"It's alright," I lied. And then I lied some more. "I don't care about that stuff!"

"That's why I like you!" He turned up the already obnoxious music and sang along. I joined him. Neither of us talked for the rest of the car ride, but we didn't need to. We laughed together even though nothing was funny. We sang to music that was too loud. We just existed for 45 minutes.

The rest of our group got to the restaurant before us. We joined the awkwardly small table. Tanner separated Hazel and me, which made his shoulders tense, and he stared at his plate as he talked. "So, Miranda, where're you from?"

"Hey, Miranda I'm really sorry about those pictures with me and Evan," Hazel interrupted. "That must've been awkward."

"Oh, they didn't bother me."

"Good!" She turned up to the oncoming waiter to ask if we could order.

"So are you two a thing?" Tanner asked Carter while Hazel spout off her obnoxiously specific meal.

Marci laughed out loud. "No," she wheezed between her giggles. "That's funny."

"We're going as friends," Carter clarified.

"Just friends," Marci added.

"You can stop that," Carter muttered. Marci's chuckle ended so abruptly it had to be fake. "Where're your sisters tonight?" he asked me.

"God, know she doesn't like talking about them," Hazel joined, finally done bothering the waiter.

"Isn't your sister friends with Kendal and his friends?" asked Tanner.

"Yeah," I answered.

"Really?" Hazel leaned in. "Like Curly and Kat?"

"You mean Revie?" I didn't wait for a response. "Yeah they're friends. Why?"

"They're crazy," Marci whispered.

Carter turned briefly from the waiter to hit her arm. "That's just rude."

"They are," she defended.

"They used to be friends with this girl named Abi Bowen," Evan explained.

"Used to?"

"She killed herself." Evan turned away to order. We waited for the waiter to take my order and leave with the menus before Evan elaborated. "I don't think anybody even knew they existed until she did it. But then the school made a big deal out of making sure they were okay because the four of them were really close."

"That doesn't make them crazy," I defended.

"Yeah well rumor has it one of them did it," Hazel whispered.

"You think they killed her?"

"Nobody thinks anybody killed anybody," Evan corrected.

"Speak for yourself," Hazel snapped. "I think they pushed her."

Carter groaned. "Why?"

Tanner watched them carefully, nearly as eager as I was to understand the conspiracy.

"I mean the whole school knew she was crazy."

"Oh please. You didn't know her at all until after she did it," Evan moaned.

"She was just the girl nobody knew existed until she no longer did," Carter added. "It was sad, really. People all pretended like they were her best friend to get attention."

"Well they wouldn't have if her three friends weren't given so much pity," said Hazel. She leaned closer to me. "They acted depressed for maybe a week and then bam. Right back to normal. No tears or anything."

"That doesn't really mean they had anything to do with it," Tanner interrupted.

"Oh what do you know." Hazel sat back again though her bright green eyes remained trained on me. "I'm telling you. They did it."

"Why would they?" Carter muttered.

"Why not?" Marci asked, eyes wide with genuine curiosity.

"She was their friend," Tanner said. "I think it was suicide. Simple as that."

"Let's agree to disagree," Hazel nearly growled through her grin. "I hate conflict, you know?"

Gail

We ate at Wendy's to avoid spending too much money. That and to preserve some sort of tradition from their freshman year. Kat and Kendal sward fought with their french fries while Revie talked. "I don't like the way we use the word awesome."

"That's random," Kat muttered.

"It's meaningless these days. I mean God is awesome. Mountains are awesome. People don't use it right."

"I'm awesome," Kendal said through a mouthful of fries that he bit out of Kat's hand. "What do you have to say about that?"

Revie rolled his eyes. "You know what I mean."

"Never," Kendal laughed. "But I really try. Honest."

"And what's up with love?"

"I don't know," Kat said. "What's wrong with love, Revie?"

"How could you love pizza and also love your mom? They should have two different words for that."

"They do," I said. "It's called 'like.'"

"But when you 'like' a girl you have stronger feeling for her than pizza, right?"

"Why did you have to bring pizza into this?" Kendal teased.

"I'm just saying," Revie muttered.

"You're always just saying," Kat complained.

"He has a point," I said to avoid hurting Revie's sometimes existent feelings. "The words sort of flip-flopped."

"Language does that you know," said Kat.

"When I say I love pizza I just mean I like pizza," Kendal tried to explain for nobody in particular, "and when I say I like you guys, I mean I love you. Which is different than loving my sister, because I really just love her because I have to."

"So there's love which really means like, like which really means love, and love that really means tolerate?" I clarified.

"And there's also like that just means like," he added. "Like when people say they like science."

Revie deepened his hunch to sink further into his thoughts. "So they both can mean both things."

"This conversation's stupid," Kat groaned.

"You're stupid," Kendal muttered to distract her as he took another one of her fires.

"This generation makes me sad," Revie kept going.

"Too bad," Kat spat. "You're stuck with us."

"What's so wrong with it?" I asked. Part of me knew, because I felt similar hatred, but I also wanted to hear it from him.

"I wish we could make something real," he said. "Anything real."

"Anything as in…?"

"Relationships, interactions, aspirations," he started.

"We're real," Kat said.

"Yeah," Revie agreed. "We are."

The whole exchange was strange, because in the moment nothing was more surreal than me being with the three of them, alone in our universe with nothing but each other to remember the night by. Nobody took out their phone to "capture the moment" and pretend their night was better than everybody else's. We didn't need to pretend. Our's was better because it belonged to us. Not our phone screens. Not our followers. Just to us and each other. And it was so real it might as well have been a fantastic dream, in a Wendy's on homecoming night with overcooked burgers, soggy fries, melted Frosties and no expectations to fulfill or disappoint.

I never wanted to wake up.

We finished our food and headed for the dance. Kendal gave me shotgun and drove, leaving Kat and Revie to bicker and laugh (in that order) in the back seat.

Not many people went to the dance, though it didn't matter because the four of us danced on one of the raised platforms big enough for three. One of my heals slipped off the edge and I threatened to splat on the ground two feet below, but Revie firmly gripped my forearm and pulled me against him.

"You alright?" he yelled over the music.

Neither of us let go of each other while I recovered from the shock. "Thanks."

Whether because of our sudden nearness or Kendal's accidental nudges or either of our subconscious desires for them to do so, our lips almost touched. That is, until Kat yanked me away from him. "Did you just fall?"

"Almost."

She laughed and yanked my arms with hers as we danced. Her 50's inspired (the 50's were her favorite) knee-high dress brushed against my thighs. Her eyes sparkled in the moving, colorful lights as they darted this way and that across the dance floor. Kendal's teeth glowed blue, then pink, then green as the same lights bounced off his smile.

Revie pulled Kat away from me and spun her into a hug. They swayed slowly despite the pounding bass of the upbeat club-style music. Kendal and I continued our strange, formless freestyle. He fixed his sweaty hair every few seconds but his fingers couldn't properly restore his blonde swoosh. It flopped as he moved.

None of us noticed the near-emptiness of the dance floor until we walked off it.

We left for Revie's house at the end of the night, which meant we had to drive for half an hour. As Kat put it, Revie's home was beyond nowhere. It was the only building in its own three mile radius, right off the two way road that stemmed out of town and continued toward nothing.

Revie had a perfect family. His dad appeared snide but spoke agreeably in a cool uncle sort of way, and his mom reminded me of pictures in my house of my grandma when she was young, rebellious and happy. But Mrs. Revie was joyful even without the un-candid smile and fantastical filter of the 1950's. She seemed like a person that didn't care about getting old and that's why she did it so gracefully.

Both of his parents appeared young but barely so. Like high school sweethearts that never fell out of love but rather grew into it. Revie had an older sister in college, and the overwhelming number of pictures of her littered on every wall told me enough. She was pretty like her mom, and happy like my grandma, and I just knew Revie was lucky to have her growing up.

When Mr. and Mrs. Revie were done meeting me and joking with Kendal and Kat, they fled upstairs to give us free reign of the house. The entire interaction seemed to be plucked from the intro of a coming-of-age Disney show. I couldn't help but envy Revie in a happy-for-him sort of way. I wondered if anybody thought the same way about my broken family. I hoped somebody did, but also doubted anybody could.

"Someone will always have it better and someone will always have it worse." Mom used to say that a lot when I was little and fast to complain. It had never made sense to me, because if that were true then somebody out there had the complete best or complete worst. I suppose the younger Gail didn't get that even the boy with the best parents could have the least money. And the person with the most love might not have anybody to share it with.

Revie didn't have it "better" than the rest of us. He just had it different. But was different better? I knew there were still people who had it worse: the people that complained less. That's why I believed everybody in this town seemed to have secured their own sort of perfect. Because nobody ever complained. Deep down I bet we all pitied ourselves.

We followed Revie downstairs. A large crate blocked the base of them, and inside it, an overexcited short-haired mutt shook the sides so it rattled. Mounted on a 40-pound body sat a lab-sized head. Its whole butt moved with its skinny tail as it swung enthusiastically back and forth, and its mouth hung open in a large smile as Revie undid the hinge and let it free. "There you are, girl." The dog waited for a complimentary rub on the head before rushing to greet her guests.

"Why the crate?" I asked.

"She's mine," Revie explained rather proudly, "so my parents put her there until I come home to take care of her."

She set her large head against my leg and waited for my introduction. I kneeled to scratch her side and eventually her exposed belly. "What's her name?"

"Scout," Revie said. The dog looked up at him, eyes wide. "After To Kill a Mockingbird."

"She's great." I scratched harder and her large tongue flopped over her mouth to tap the floor.

He straightened with pride. "I know." He whistled and nodded toward the back door. Scout sprang to her feet and the two of them walked out into the night. Kendal plopped on the couch while Kat disappeared into another room.

I joined Kendal. "Where's she going?"

"Revie's room," Kendal said.

She returned seconds later with a half-empty bottle of vodka in hand. Revie and Scout joined us and Revie turned on some quiet music. Then he plopped on the couch, and Scout pinned him there. Her large tongue slowly licked the back of his hand.

She didn't leave his side for the rest of the night. So much so that he had to carry her with her paws and head draped over his shoulders so he could adjust the music volume across the room.

After an hour in Revie's basement, alcohol warmed my chest like glowing coal. My limbs grew heavier and my head grew lighter. And all was blissful.

And all was real.

The world got blurrier around us. Or perhaps we got blurrier.

"Gail," Kat called from the other end of the couch. Her pale blue dress spilled off it and onto the floor like a velvet waterfall. "Tell us a secret."

"You first."

"I asked first," she argued.

"I'm a virgin," I said.

Revie chuckled, which caused Scout to jiggle against his quaking gut. "We already knew that."

"Well that's my secret," I protested, also laughing. "Now yours."

"My first kiss was with a girl," Kat admitted.

I laughed harder. "What?"

"It was at an all girls New Years party in eighth grade. I wanted to kiss somebody at midnight."

"Isn't that normal, though?" Revie asked. "I thought all girls had their own version of that story."

"I don't," I admitted.

Kat's eyes widened. "No?"

I shook my head slowly.

"No spin the bottle?" Kat clarified.

Again, my head shook.

"Third grade experimentation?"

No.

"Truth or dare?"

Nope.

Kat slowly rolled off the couch and stood on her knees. "Hey, Gail?"

"Mhm?"

"Truth or dare?"

"Dare."

"Kiss me."

And I did. Because I was drunk. And she wanted me to. And her face was against mine before I realized how close she'd become.

It was wet, and it tasted of salt and alcohol. I didn't protest, but I didn't enjoy it either. I just closed my eyes as I would for any kiss and gave in until it ended.

Our lips slowly split, releasing a graceful "click" into the overwhelming silence around us. I opened my eyes to find Kat smiling widely, her shimmering eyes trained on Revie. He and Kendal watched silently from feet away. Both of their mouths hung open in disbelief, though Kendal's quickly snapped into a wide grin partnered with hysterical laughter.

Revie cursed loudly. He dug his hand into his back pocket and slapped a crisp 50 dollar bill into Kat's waiting palm. Kendal laughed louder, his drunkenness simultaneously tired and loud. Kat joined in.

I stared at Revie, seemingly the only sane one left of the three of them. "What was that about?"

He grinned sheepishly, cheeks flushed bright magenta from either embarrassment or guilt. Maybe both? His head sank farther into his shoulders as he spoke. "Kat bet me 50 bucks she could get you to kiss her before I could."

I joined Kendal and Kat in their laughter. The ridiculous situation mixed with the alcohol in my system exploded something hysterical out of me. Revie joined into the chorus until the entire house echoed with our joy. I stopped first, forced to do so by my curiosity. "When was this?"

Tension swept into the room to coat us all in eerily abrupt silence. Kat and Revie avoided my prying eyes so I had to look to Kendal for the seemingly simple answer. He glared at his friends before opening his mouth. Words came out of it many painful seconds later. "About 20 seconds before we met you."

He spoke as if his words held more severity than they did. It took me seconds to recognize the weight in them. Kat didn't call me over after the bed.

She did because of it.

I couldn't think of anything to say, and after a few seconds of splitting my wild eye contact between the three of them, I stood to leave.

"Gail, wait," Revie called after me. He took time to shove Scout off his lap so he could stand.

Kendal grabbed my arm before I could get as far as the stairs. "Don't go."

"Well I'm not gonna stay," I argued.

"Somebody'll have to pick you up," Kendal pointed out. "None of us can drive."

I pulled out my phone for the first time that night. "Fine." The warmth from seconds ago vanished from inside me, rendering the hot coal in my chest to nothing more than cold weight. My eyesight sharpened until everything became uncomfortably clear, including Kendal's bright blue eyes staring into mine.

"Just let us explain," Kat said, suddenly between me and the stairs. "Please."

I texted my dad to get me and glared at her. "What is there to explain? The fact that you used me over a bet?"

"It's more complicated than that," Revie snapped.

"You're right. Because you went as far as convincing me that you had actual feelings." My mind wandered to the day before and our almost-kiss, and I couldn't help but think he didn't mean any of it.

Revie desperately grabbed my arm. "I do!"

I shook him off. "Don't you get that doesn't mean anything now?"

"Please let us explain," Kat begged.

"We used to have this friend named Abi," Revie started before I could shut him down. "She passed away last year."

I wanted to hurt for them, but the uncovered truth rose more questions than sympathy. "So what? I replaced her?"

"No," Kat and Kendal both yelled.

"Revie has never kissed anybody but her," Kat tried to explain. "I just made a joke about her being his last."

"And you were the one walking by when we made the bet," Revie admitted. "But that had nothing to do with us liking you or inviting you here." He shook his head gently. "It had nothing to do with yesterday." I believed him. And then I reminded myself that I was smarter than that.

Tears rolled down my face as the truth exposed itself. I turned to Kendal. "And you knew?"

He didn't answer. Just kept staring with his perfect blue eyes.

I shoved my way past Kat. "Please don't follow me."

Kendal didn't listen. He followed me all the way out the front door. "Gail, we're sorry."

Cold air wrapped brutally around my bare legs. Icy wind raped my hair as my bare feet pounded against the freezing concrete. "I don't care."

"Please come inside," he pried. The distance between us closed.

"No," I sobbed.

His warm hand finally wrapped around my arm. "You'll freeze out here."

I finally stopped, allowing the cold from the concrete beneath me to shoot through my naked feet and up my legs like lightning. Tears ran steadily down my cheeks in hot streams. Kendal rubbed his palms against my bare arms to heat them. I didn't pull away.

"We're so sorry," he repeated.

"You knew," I cried.

"I'm sorry."

"I don't want to do this right now."

"There's nowhere else to go."

The wind picked up and I shivered. Kendal pulled me against the warmth of his chest. "Please just come inside until your dad gets here."

I let him drag me into the house. Revie and Kat waited in the kitchen for our return. None of us said anything. I didn't step farther in than I needed to. Nobody tried to near me, except Kendal who continued to rub my bitterly cold skin with his just-as-cold hands.

"I shouldn't have done it," Kat finally admitted. "We forgot about it until it happened."

Revie nodded beside her.

"So why were you carrying the bill?" I asked Revie. In his back pocket, nonetheless. Not in his wallet to pay for dinner. Not in his phone for emergencies. His pocket.

"It was a stupid joke," Kat continued. "Don't hold us to it."

"Why wouldn't I?"

None of them could answer my question. The silence that followed was so torturous that I finally broke it. "How'd she die?"

"Suicide," Revie grunted, head downcast so his curls fell to cover his face.

The already tense atmosphere plummeted into grief. Despite how much I tried to avoid it, my heart broke for all of them.

Kendal finally stopped warming me up. He leaned on the wall beside us and stared at the ground. Kat ran downstairs to grab my shoes. We all knew there was nothing they could say to keep me there.

Dad came too many minutes later. Kat called goodbye but I didn't answer. I couldn't find any possible words to say.

"What happened?" Dad asked when I stepped in the car.

"I really don't want to talk about it." My dormant tears resurfaced to brim my eyes.

His face contorted into the usual look of confusion on whether he should act like himself or like Mom, though he never managed the latter. Still, he tried. "If I stop asking questions will you tell me tomorrow?"

I nodded and he told jokes the rest of the way home. I laughed at the ones that deserved it but didn't say a word. He pretended not to mind, and when we finally got home I thanked him for seemingly nothing. We both knew why, though, and he nodded to prove it before leading me inside.

I let the tears fall in the comfort of my room. It was almost midnight but I wasn't tired, so I fell on my bed and stared at the ceiling.

Just a girl with a fancy dress in her own, tiny, lonely universe.

106 days left

Miranda

"I think you've had enough," Carter yelled over the crowd around us. Music bled into the chaotic chatter and it all collided into nothing but noise.

I pretended not to hear him. He pulled the cup out of my mouth mid-sip and cranberry vodka spilled over both of us. "Stop."

"I'm fine," I insisted.

Carter held the cup out of my reach. Large hands rested on my shoulder from behind and I turned to find Evan. We smiled at each other. "Everything all right?"

"Just fine," Carter yelled.

"Here." Evan handed me a new drink which I took immediately. I just couldn't stop. And I felt fine. Great, actually. "I'll be right back," he yelled.

"Okay!"

Evan vanished in the crowd of strangers. Carter took the second drink away before I could finish it and replaced it with water. "Don't be such a mom," I complained.

"Don't give me reasons," he fired back.

Marci shoved her way through the people around us and fell onto her date. "Come play drinking games with me," she begged.

Carter turned to me. "Come on."

He wouldn't let me say no, and the three of us left the dense "dance floor" to watch the more sober bunch play beer pong. I left Carter a few minutes later for the bathroom and he tried to lead me there but Marci wouldn't let him.

I didn't actually know where the bathroom was, which lead to my aimless wandering around the house. I arrived at a narrow hallway with two people at the end, both of which I knew, one of which I came here with. Evan saw me seconds after I saw him. He pulled his lips off Hazel's to chase me down the hallway. "Hold on now."

I let him catch up with me, and I threw up when he did. He jumped away from the splashing vomit and turned away to curse.

Hazel laughed at both of us from where he'd left her.

Before I could think to run away, Evan yanked my arm toward the nearest door and knelt me in front of the toilet. "Hazel, get in here."

Reluctantly, she held my hair while Evan left to get water. Everything turned blurry, and then I was out of the bathroom and in the kitchen with complete strangers. The world spun. My head spun. Everything blended into beautiful chaos.

Evan came back. The people around us left.

In a bedroom, I thought. And then I knew. And then the bed was under me. And Evan was apologizing. I couldn't remember for what. Just one big blur. And Evan. And his lips against mine. And his strong hands on my body. Over the dress. Then under the dress. And in my hair. And down my neck. And…and…

Carter. Carter and Evan. Cold air on top of me. Carter on top of Evan.

Both were loud. Both were yelling.

"Bastard," he said.

"Just some fun," he said.

"Drunk as hell…Son of a bitch…Bastard. Sick. Get out."

After the door slammed everything silenced. Carter turned his back to me. "Get dressed," he whispered. I did, and we left.

Gail

Miranda's makeup ran in streaks down her face, revealing the girl trying to hide behind the mask. Somebody I didn't know waited outside, car still running with the headlights off. Carter adjusted her against his shoulder and I could do nothing but watch, unsure how to respond. He called me five minutes prior with Miranda's phone, though apparently that wasn't enough time to prepare for the sight before me.

For the first time in her existence, for reasons far greater than her smudged makeup and bent posture, Miranda looked hideous. And amongst all my premeditated angst and fury that night, I actually pitied her.

I thanked Carter and dragged her to her room. She didn't say a word and I didn't feel like it, so I just closed the door and returned to my previous, miserable existence.

Sydney

Turns out none of us would enjoy homecoming. The pathetic reality dawned on me, and I fell asleep to the inconsistent rhythms of my own hysterical, drunk laughter.

Gail

A distant voice screamed something outside. And then again. And then three times until I could finally understand what they were saying. "Gail!" I couldn't help but pull back my curtains to find Revie biking through the endless grass of my backyard. He practically fell off the seat and ran up to my window. "Gail!" I closed the curtain. "Please, Gail!"

"Shut up!" Adam called from his window 20 yards adjacent to mine.

"You shut up!"

"It's four in the morning!" Adam elaborated. "Some of us are trying to sleep!"

"And some of us are trying to apologize!" Revie called back. "Gail! Don't make me bike that far for nothing!" Drunkenness hung in his voice. "Please!" He panted heavily. Even through the glass of my window, I could hear it. "Gail, open the window!"

"Open the damn window!" Adam yelled. Sleep deprived, he didn't resemble an inch of his sweet, timid self.

I sighed heavily in failed attempt to untangle my nerves before pulling back the curtain and shoving my window open. Adam slammed his in response.

"Gail," Revie started below me, still panting hard. "I'm sorry," he managed between breaths, "I'm so… sorry."

"Is that a ukulele?"

He pulled the small instrument off his back. "Yeah."

"Aren't you just full of surprises."

"Let me make… it up to… you."

"I don't think you can, Revie. Not tonight."

He rested his hands on his knees. "Give me a minute," he sighed.

I pulled a blanket off my bed to protect myself against the cool night that poured into my room. Revie recovered after about a minute of panting. He pulled up his ukulele and started meticulously plucking each string despite the fact that each already rung with a perfectly tuned note. He just twisted the nobs back and forth until he was ready, which he apparently wasn't, because he couldn't stop twisting those stupid nobs.

"Liam—"

"Wait." He finally stopped fiddling. "Please just wait."

We both stared at the other's vague silhouettes. The only light around came from the kitchen of Adam's house. I didn't bother to turn mine on. I didn't want him to see my puffy and tearstained face. For a moment we were still, just looking at each other despite how much we couldn't see.

Revie started strumming a tune I didn't recognize.

"There's no need to complicate it." His voice came out unexpectedly beautiful. Not in a pop-star sort of way, but in a simple, ordinarily brilliant sort. He had to pause to regain his breath. "Dress it up or overstate it." Again, he paused.

"I don't know this song," I admitted.

"Ben Rector?" he called. When he turned up he looked different. Childish in his usually weary body. I supposed drunken Revie was just Revie, and the alcohol washed away his tainted mask established by soberness.

I shook my head.

"Just listen then," he whined. He pulled his ukulele higher against his heaving chest. "Without too much hesitation here's the way I feel." He stopped to take a deep breath, and I took one with him to keep the tears from returning.

"Well, I like you, I like you. Even when I don't try to. Yes I do, that's the truth. I like you."

He smiled when I did. I couldn't help it, or the words that left my mouth. "Which kind of 'like' are we talking?"

"All of them."

"That doesn't make sense, dude," Adam called from his apparently reopened window. We both whipped to face him.

"What are you doing?" I called.

"Go away," Revie said over me.

Adam muttered something and closed his window again.

"I'm sorry I hurt you," Revie continued.

"So am I."

"So?"

I shook my head. "Not tonight, Revie." I hated my words nearly as much as he did, but then again I hated him, too. Just because I remembered liking him but had forgotten why.

I slowly closed the window, un-satirically influenced by the words "too soon" as they floated into my overwhelmed thoughts. He didn't try to stop me.

105 days left

Miranda

I didn't remember any more about Marci's party on Monday than I did Sunday, but regardless of how much slipped my mind, (which was pretty much all of it,) I retained wild embarrassment, and with it a need to apologize.

I yanked Evan out of the human stream in the hallway before first period. "I'm sorry about that night."

His glazed eyes slowly studied me. "What part?"

There were parts? "The embarrassing ones?"

He slowly nodded. "Okay. Well in that case I guess I'm sorry too."

"Cool." I squeezed his arm. "Thanks for being so calm."

"Sure."

"No, really. You're the best."

His wide eyes didn't blink. "Ditto." He pulled my hand off his arm and his thumb gently rubbed my palm. "I gotta get to class, okay?"

"Right."

He planted a kiss on my cheek before rejoining the flow of people as they filed into their respective doors. Carter appeared from seemingly nowhere to pull me off the wall. "What'd he do?"

"Evan?"

"Who else?"

"Why do you care?" I put a few more inches between us as we started down the hall. "We just apologized."

"We?"

Embarrassment heated my cheeks, but I didn't know what for. "Look, it's none of your business, okay?"

"Now wait a second, you're just gonna let that son of a bitch—"

"Whoa, okay I don't know what happened between you two—"

"You think something happened between us?"

"—but that doesn't mean you have a right to medal in my business."

"Miranda, let's get something straight." He pulled me to a sudden stop.

I yanked my arm away. "What the hell, Carter?"

He snapped into unsettling calmness. "Just listen to me for a second."

"Yeah right." I started away.

"Miranda, wait."

"Mind your own business, okay?"

I slipped into class before he could follow me. Through the small classroom window I watched him storm away, red with anger.

Sydney

Evan and Carter didn't speak a word to each other during physics. That is until the second half of class when Evan turned back to joke about something the teacher said. He couldn't get a word in, though, before Carter told him (in much angrier, dirtier words) to beat it.

Being between them forced all their exhausted tension onto me, and for the entire hour I grew increasingly uncomfortable. Staring at Evan didn't help, and I was forced to listen to the mind-numbing lesson. Or at least I tried past the unexplainable stress Carter shoved my way from behind.

I didn't know what happened between the two of them, but as far as repairable feuds go, it wasn't one of them. Evan came off as either oblivious or numb to whatever he did, which only angered Carter more as the last few minutes of class ticked by. He left first when the bell finally rang.

Miranda

The boys didn't show at lunch.

"They're probably beating each other up in the parking lot or something," Hazel theorized.

"What's up between the two of them?" I asked.

Hazel shrugged. "I mean if anything we should be fighting, you know?"

"Why?" I asked. There were so many reasons, but something told me she was thinking of one that I wasn't.

Hazel just smiled stupidly and shrugged. A pathetic laugh slipped through her lips. "You know," she teased. "Right?"

I just raised my eyebrows.

"I mean don't say the thing between me and Evan didn't bother you."

"Sure it did," I said, confused as to why she had to bring up the pictures again. "But I'm not gonna hold a grudge. You were just being you, right?"

She laughed nervously. "You're way too chill, Miranda."

"And that bothers you?"

She slowly nodded.

"So why would I stop?"

We shared a fake laugh.

"I thought Carter was, like, mad about what happened between you and Evan," Marci joined.

"What happened between me and Evan?" I asked.

She took my ignorance as a good sign. "I knew he was lying."

"Wait, Marci. What did he say happened between me and Evan?"

"After you, like, threw up," Marci continued.

I vaguely remembered that part. With Hazel. And Evan. Hazel with Evan…

I turned to Hazel with wide eyes, suddenly aware she didn't mean the pictures, but I was also too busy listening to Marci to be furious. Or at least outwardly so.

"You got too drunk and he, like, took advantage," Marci said under her breath. "But I don't think Carter had his facts straight. Evan wouldn't do that."

Everything clicked, and though I couldn't remember it all, I remembered enough, like how Carter had babied me all night. Evan had just kept disappearing. And he'd made out with Hazel. I didn't remember how I got home, but basic common sense told me it wasn't with Evan. And I couldn't forget how Carter had looked after seeing us together that morning: absolutely revolted by both of us.

All the facts slowly filtered into their part of the story until I felt violently nauseous.

I didn't make it to the bathroom and had to throw up into the nearest trashcan. A gentle hand rested on my back, and his smooth voice only made me spit up more. Anybody but him. "You okay?" Evan asked again.

"Please go," I choked, eyes watery.

"Miranda, what's wrong?"

"Please, Evan." I hated him. I hated him so much.

"Miranda." He carefully helped me up from the trashcan, his hand firmly around my arm.

I tried to shake him off. "Leave me alone."

"Wait."

I shoved until he let go. "Get off me."

"Miranda…"

"She said get off," Carter called from the cafeteria entrance as he walked through it. I shrank against the wall but didn't stop his rescue, just as desperate for it as I'd been embarrassed. I wiped my mouth with my thumb as he stepped up to us.

"What's going on," Hazel called as she stood from our table. Marci followed her over.

Evan tried to shoo everybody away with a quick wave of his hand. "Nothing."

"No, seriously," Hazel pried.

The entire cafeteria hushed into low murmurs as everybody watched. "Just sit back down," Evan spat at Hazel and Marci.

"Don't tell them what to do," Carter snapped back. "And don't touch her," he growled.

Evan looked to his hand against my wrist, which encouraged me to do the same, and then so did Hazel and Marci and everybody watching our group's interaction, which was everybody in a mile radius.

Evan's hand didn't move. "She's fine with it." As much as I hated him using my name, I hated it more when he didn't. Evan ran his hand up my arm until it gripped my shoulder. "Right?" His stunning eyes met mine, but only until Carter could rip him away from me.

The cafeteria erupted into chaos as the boys crashed to the ground. Hazel screamed, which encouraged Marci to do the same. Several hoots and gasps from nearby tables joined their shrieks. Carter, partnered by his rage, easily pinned Evan to the tiled cafeteria floor and started punching mercilessly. Evan threw him off and returned the favor so fast I couldn't tell who had the upper hand.

Marci yelled for it all to stop. Hazel smiled a bit, but her eyes shone with shock. "Come on, guys," she groaned casually. "Really?"

Just past the two of them, Kendal, Revie and Kat watched from their usual lunch table feet away. Gail wasn't with them, but they still looked from the fight to me as if I were the one in distress. I must've looked the part, given my transparent horror. My wide eyes found Kendal's and I subtly gestured to the fight with a nod. Kendal sighed and stood up to push his way past the congregating crowd. "Okay. Break it up."

Revie stood to help before his friend could sacrifice himself in the mess, and the two managed to rip the boys apart. Kendal had to slap Evan's flailing arms from colliding with his face several times before the commotion died down into still silence.

Kat yanked her friends back before it could break out again, and Hazel stepped into their spot to separate Evan and Carter. "Real mature, boys."

"Johnson! Milburn!" Our principal yelled over the crowd, his feet planted in front of his office door. "My office. Now."

The congregation split to let them through. I didn't see either of them for the rest of the day. I didn't miss Evan in Spanish, but I wanted to see Carter more than ever. To apologize. And thank him. And do so many things I wanted to do with Evan only minutes prior to the fight.

It's funny, really, how fast things can change. Not "haha" funny, but more Hazel smiling at a fight between her friends funny. The twisted kind. The wrong kind.

The kind I wasn't afraid to give into anymore.

Sydney

The penalties were as follows: three day suspension for starting the fight. One day suspension for hitting back. I didn't know which was more unfair, Carter's suspension for doing the morally acceptable thing, or Evan's for self defense.

The news spread through the school faster than the rumor of identical triplets. Everybody talked about it either because they were there and they had their own unique "perspective" about what happened, or they weren't there and they had a conspiracy. Either way, by the end of the day, everybody knew enough to lie about being there if they weren't, though nobody knew the truth well enough to actually seem like they were, even if they had been.

And then there were the people who watched the fight and didn't care to share their perspective to the point of changing it. Those were the people like Miranda. The people like me. The people who knew the truth and that's why nobody really cared about what they had to say. Nobody even noticed that they didn't actually say anything about it at all.

Regardless, physics on Tuesday would feel extremely lonely. But then again, that wasn't very different, was it?

104 days left

Gail

Ben Rector and The Beatles played nonstop on my phone since Sunday morning, and each song made me miss them all so much more. Which in turn made me hate them for being in my head. It all hurt so much. Missing and hating the same people. And thinking about Revie at my window and loving him for it. And hating him for making me love him for it. The worst part of it all was I had a reason to hate them and none to like them, but I still wanted to do the latter.

And then the whole cycle started again. The voice in my head sounded like a Miley Cyrus song from the 2000's: bipolar, awkward, and hard to listen to despite how right it was.

And when I got sick of listening to my own voice, I finally gave into Miranda's. "Just get over it! They're good people. Even I know that."

"Like you would know anything."

"You're right. Stay miserable. But if I were you I'd prefer the alternative." I hated her, because she was right. "Just saying."

"Whatever."

I couldn't get her out of my mind after that.

103 days left

Gail

I walked toward them. The truth was, I wasn't ready to say goodbye yet. As fake or real as it might've been, I'd had fun being their friend. They made me feel infinite, and all I wanted was to be at the center of my own universe. I had nothing revolving around me, and nothing to revolve around.

I didn't want to be alone in any universe, especially my own. And I didn't want to punish Kendal for something he didn't even do. I guess it was not doing something that put him in as much fault as Kat and Revie. He could have told me before my friendship became a game. And before Kat won. And before Revie had to apologize. And before I had to accept his apology because I didn't want to be mad at him. Or Kat. Or Kendal. Especially Kendal… Four steps away… Three steps… Two…

"Hey." Kendal smiled up from the table, his eyes bright. They begged me to sit down. I obeyed. And just like that, homecoming never happened and everything returned to normal. Or at least we all acted that way, but nothing could really change the fact that Kat was 50 dollars richer that Wednesday than she was Saturday.

Kat and Revie barely concerned themselves with my reappearance. A different argument stole their attention. Or, rather, Revie argued and Kat turned away so her back faced all three of us. "Killing herself. Leaving us. That wasn't an option," he said.

She didn't face him to respond. "Then how was she able to choose it?"

"Suicide is never an option, Kat! You don't just choose it like you choose what to have for breakfast in the morning!"

"So why is she gone?" She finally exposed her face. Tears ran down her bright pink cheeks.

Kendal leaned toward me. "Today would have been her birthday," he said quietly.

I could do nothing but nod. I'd never witnessed the bleed-through of their tainted, shared past into the present. I didn't even know Abi Bowen had existed until homecoming. I started to see why they kept her from me despite other reasons, and part of me wished they would continue to.

"Hey, Gail," Revie finally acknowledged when he couldn't find the words to continue with Kat. "Glad you're back," he mumbled.

"Me too." I smiled when he glared at me, both aware of my next words. "Did you guys know Revie sings?"

Kendal laughed and nudged his friend. "You didn't…"

"You saw me leave with a ukulele strapped to my back."

"I didn't think you'd actually serenade her," Kendal protested.

"People do stupid things when they're drunk," Revie admitted.

"How romantic," Kat teased. Anger still hung on her words.

"It was cute," I confessed. "It really was."

Revie rolled his eyes and tilted his head down to hide more behind his curly mop of hair.

"Well, I'm glad it worked," Kendal said.

I was too prideful to admit Miranda actually coaxed me to their table. Or that it would have happened no matter what anybody said or did. The truth was, I needed them to distract me from my misery, and deep down I knew they all presumed the same.

Which made me wonder if they were ever scared of losing me at all.

101 days left

Sydney

Carter came back on Friday, and the hallways rang with celebration for his return. Apparently, the prerequisites for celebrity status were punching the boy with more popularity in the face. He couldn't turn a corner without being clapped on the back or cat-called. When my turn came to give the warm welcome, a group of Evan's football-playing loyalists shoved him against the corner I foolishly turned around.

We collided all but violently, and Carter had to grab my arm to keep my head from slamming into the brick wall. The phone in my hand flew across the hall and we both watched it clatter against the ground.

"I've got it," Carter announced.

He studied me before running for the device, and when he started back, the adorable smile plastered against his face melted me. I tried to act surprised despite the fact that we literally slammed into each other moments before, and the result came off as hopelessly desperate. "Oh, hey!"

He dropped the phone in my hand. "Somebody's happy to see me." He reached to push my disheveled glasses up before they could fall off but held them away to study my face without them instead. Our eyes locked, and my nerves tingled with what I couldn't decipher as an urge to shove him away or yank him closer.

I timidly adjusted my rims, simultaneously panicked and thrilled to feel his gentle fingers brush my cheek. When he finally pulled away, I tried not to show my disappointment. "You're back!"

"Well, they couldn't suspend me forever."

"I know that, but—"

"No need to get defensive."

"I'm not being defensive."

He chuckled. "You are, though. Your nose is getting all wrinkly." He tapped his own.

My hand flew up to cover it and Carter laughed, risking a skeptical glance back as he walked away. "See you later."

"Okay."

He looked back again, his confusion barely overridden by the mischievous smile on his face. I tried to casually return it, but he rendered my efforts useless by biting his lip and turning away.

I hoped I didn't look as stupid as I felt, though nothing could wipe my smitten grin that stretched from one ear to the other.

Gail

Revie answered after the first ring. "What?"

"Can you come over?"

"Now?"

"Is that a no?"

"No, I'm just clarifying."

I laughed even though he hadn't been joking. "Yes, now."

"Okay."

He hung up and his car pulled up to my sidewalk 30 minutes later. Scout hung her head out of the passenger's seat. He left her there to jog up the pathway to the front door.

I let myself outside. "Hey."

He pulled his finger away from the un-rung doorbell. "What's up?"

"I just realized I never accepted your apology from homecoming," I said. "And I wanted to do that part in person."

He didn't respond. Just stared with his intense brown eyes.

"I see now that it would have just been easier to do it over the phone or at school or something…"

"No, this is better," he finally reassured me. His cheeks tugged at his lips as he ran his hand through his curls. "A hundred percent."

"Good."

I offered to take Scout on a walk with him and, instead of answering, he called her over with a whistle. She jumped effortlessly out of the still-open car window and trotted to our side. Her tongue bounced out of her awkwardly long snout with each step.

I welcomed her weight against my leg and scratched at her short, multicolored mutt fur. "No leash?"

Revie both shrugged and laughed at that, though offered no real response. He waited for me to say a proper hello to the admirably joyful creature before we set off.

"No plans today?" I questioned, though I already knew the answer. If he did have plans he wouldn't have wasted the half hour it took to drive here, let alone the journey back to his middle-of-nowhere home.

"Sort of," he admitted. I didn't bother to ask what he meant, because he started talking again, and when Revie talked, everybody listened. "I actually had premeditated plans to not have plans until you called."

"We can watch a movie when we get back or something," I offered. "And that way we could have no plans together."

He nodded once, which I took as a good sign.

"Will she seriously not run away?" I studied Scout, amazed. Not only did she stay without a leash, but she stayed close. Almost uncomfortably so.

"She has attachment issues," Revie explained, and I couldn't tell if he was joking. "Until it snows," he continued. "She loves the snow more than the loves me, unfortunately."

"So in the winter…"

"We keep her away from open doors." She licked the back of his hand as he talked and he studied the way her tongue bounced off his skin. "Not that she'd run that far."

"How'd you train her so well?"

"I didn't, really. She came this way."

"It's incredible."

"Is luck incredible, though?"

"Why not?"

"I think luck is earned in a way. Like karma. And karma isn't incredible. It's just fair."

"Whatever you say, Revie." I didn't feel like arguing, his busy mind more tolerant of such uselessly interesting thoughts than mine.

Our short walk ended minutes later and I lead both Revie and Scout into the house and down to the basement.

"I feel like your sisters are never around," he admitted as I walked him to the couch.

"They are," I protested. "They're just hiding."

"From what?"

"Don't know." I could've said each other, but that would've been a lie. We mostly just hid from ourselves, or rather, the parts of us that we had in common.

He refused my invitation to sit with me on the couch so he could walk around the basement. His eyes scanned the walls for hidden secrets. "Looking for something?" I joked.

"That depends on if I find anything," he teased back. Scout stayed inches away from his heels. Her steps perfectly matched his so he couldn't get too far. Her busy nose scanned the floor beneath his feet. Suddenly amused, Revie pulled a Spiderman figurine off one of Dad's trinket-filled shelves. "What's this?"

I smiled at the seemingly insignificant piece of plastic. "When my parents were dating, my dad would put it in a different place and position whenever he left Mom's place so she would find it and think about him or something like that. I don't really know I just know him as the Spiderman that we use as decoration during the holidays." Sometimes it was nice to admit that even parents had to fall in love at some point. All love stories started somewhere, no matter how infinite they were.

Or how short.

Revie finally fell on the couch beside me. Scout plopped over us so her butt fell over my legs and her head fell over his. He studied the enlarged picture over the fireplace of Mom and Dad. "Do you miss her?"

"Mhm."

"Do you ever wish that feeling would just go away?"

"No," I said confidently. "I don't want to forget the things that I miss."

Revie nodded like he understood. "Me either." He turned back to me before clarifying, "For Abi."

"I figured." Talking to Revie felt nice, because he got me to say the things I didn't know I was thinking. And he listened even when I couldn't. And understood what I didn't. And said what I wouldn't until I was confident knowing somebody else felt the same way.

"I like to think she's still here in bits and pieces," he continued, "like she's living through the rest of us, you know?"

I shook my head.

"I just think there's a little bit of everybody in everybody else." His eyes stared into mine until he seemed to see right through me.

"You think a lot of things."

"I think there's a lot of her in you."

"Her as in Abi?"

"It's a compliment, I promise," he smiled.

"I'm sure," I reassured him, yet my stomach still dropped, once again weighed down by the strain of being a replacement for a stranger formally known as Abi. A girl I apparently resembled, which made it all so much worse.

I finally turned on the movie I wished I'd gotten to earlier. Scout's weight in our laps ensured that we stayed an awkwardly far-but-close distance away from each other. She fell asleep to keep it that way.

The sky turned light pink outside the window as the movie went on. When it finished we talked over a shared bowl of microwaved leftovers.

"What was she like?" I asked him out of nowhere, because the question had been scratching at my brain for hours. "If you don't mind…"

"I don't." He leaned into the comfort of Scout against his side and stayed silent for a while. His eyes studied his lap.

"You don't have to answer if—"

"No, I want to," he reassured me. "I just want to use the right words. Skip that 'she was nice and funny and her favorite animal was a dolphin' crap."

"Okay."

He thought a bit longer. "She was the embodiment of the color yellow. And moonlight, if moonlight was warm.

"She could make you feel like you were in the center of the universe if you asked her to. There was just something about the way she talked like she wanted you to hear it, not because she wanted to say it. And she could read everybody like an open book to the point where none of us had to tell her how we were feeling. She just knew."

Then he let himself really think of her, and a bittersweet smile split his lips.

"Before she lost herself," he continued, "she was filled with this… wonder. Like a kid that believed every tomorrow would be Christmas. And then I guess one day she woke up and realized that was impossible." His smile faded. "I think it all caught up with her a few months before she did it. But none of us could read her like an open book to know.

"Sometimes I wish Abi could've listened to herself instead of the voice in her head."

"Aren't those the same thing?"

Revie shook his head. "If they were she'd still be here."

"Don't say that."

"Well that's better than saying it's our fault for not telling her how much she meant to us."

"Don't say that either."

"I wasn't going to."

"Good."

"But I still wish I could've said all the things I didn't get to."

"Like what?"

"Like how her eyes were the most beautiful thing in the world just because I loved the feeling of looking into them. And I couldn't help but smile when she did because it was another thing we got to share.

"If I could, I'd tell her every minute is perfect when I'm with her because it's one less minute I have to spend away from her. I'd say the one thing more terrifying than dying too young is living after she did."

He scooted himself closer and I couldn't move to stop him, mesmerized. "And I know now that I have to say these things when I think of them because one day, I won't have the chance, and a girl could live the rest of her possibly short life not knowing how incredible she is." His forehead neared until it nearly touched mine, and his gentle, cool fingers slid effortlessly against my cheek.

Hot breath bounced off my lips as he spoke, softer. "You should know I'm still pissed Kat got that kiss before I did, and not for the money."

I couldn't look away from his eyes, mostly because I didn't want to. "I know."

"And you need to know that the one thing I regret more than hurting you is almost losing you."

Before I could respond, his lips rested on mine. My heart stopped for all the wrong reasons. My lungs lost air. Within my tangled thoughts I couldn't figure out whether the kiss was for me or Abi.

Firmly, I pulled away. Both of our eyes snapped open.

"I'm sorry," I whispered, amazed that any words at all were capable of escaping my tight throat.

"What is it?"

I pushed against his chest to put some air between us. "It's too soon," I lied. "I just can't—"

"I get it," he whispered, retracting his hand. "You shouldn't forgive me at all, really."

"But I do."

"I know."

"Okay." I sat up against the suddenly hard couch beneath me to put my head in my hands. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be." He picked up the remote to turn the TV on again. "I've waited this long."

We watched mindless shows until enough time passed for night to come. Silence settled comfortably between us until Kat called, sending Revie's phone into a bright, vibrating fit.

"Isn't it a bit late for that?"

"She does this a lot," Revie reassured me with a forced smile. "Just likes the affirmations, I guess."

"Affirmations of what?"

"That anybody still cares." His finger fell on the answer button. "Hey Kitty," he mumbled. "What's up?"

"Just lonely," Kat moaned. "Where are you?"

Revie pointed the camera at me. I waved and she gasped excitedly. "Am I interrupting something?"

Revie shook his head and we both turned to the awkward, unmoving gap between us. "Just hanging." He squinted toward the screen. "Whatcha doin', Kit?"

"Calling Kendal on my laptop," she explained.

I laughed. "You know you can call multiple people on your phone, right?"

"Yeah, but I did it this way before that was an option and I'll keep doing it this way until it doesn't work anymore."

"Kat's a tech grandma," Revie complained.

"Says the boy who texts one word responses to everything," Kat fired back, high on our company.

"I'm to the point," Revie concluded. "There's nothing wrong with that."

"That's your opinion," she singsonged. "Hey Kendal."

"Hey Kat," Kendal's transmitted voice crackled through Revie's phone speaker. "Hey Revie."

"And Gail," Revie added. He shifted the camera slightly again to show me sitting an awkward three feet away on the same couch.

"And Gail," Kendal corrected himself. "Is that Scout?"

"And Scout," Revie added to the guest list. The mutt's tired ears perked up and I scratched her exposed belly to calm her back down. She stretched her neck to lick the back of my hand and I couldn't stop scratching her after that, tied to the suddenly two-way relationship with Revie's dog.

Even through the small phone screen, Kat and Kendal forced everything between Revie and me to return to normal, which relieved both of us. Or I at least presumed it relieved Revie because his tense shoulders relaxed slightly against the couch behind him.

"What're you two up to?" Kendal asked.

"Just hanging," we responded together, which caused Kat and Kendal to laugh for the wrong reasons.

Revie avoided my eyes by training them on the screen. His skin glowed blue in the light, sharp shadows cast by his features. "Kit, you can't call us just to fall asleep."

She spoke through her yawn. "Said who?"

I slowly nodded in agreement, also weighed down by the pull of sleep. It forced me deeper into the couch cushions with each second. I pretended not to notice Revie smiling over me. "You know they have YouTube videos for this kind of stuff," he complained.

"Yeah but I need something to bore me to sleep," she moaned.

Kendal chuckled softly. "Gee, thanks."

I didn't retain much of the conversation after that, trapped by the awkward conscious-sleep combo that forced my eyes closed but kept my ears halfheartedly open. Eventually, Revie told Kat he loved her and meant it. And then Kendal wished her goodnight though Revie said something about the effort being useless because she'd already fallen asleep.

"And so's Gail," Revie whispered when he noticed.

"Well now this is creepy," Kendal joked.

"And that's my cue to hang up."

"See ya."

"Bye."

And then it was just us again. Gail and Liam. Liam and Gail. But I knew it was Liam and Abi first, and that thought kept me coward enough to stay half-asleep instead of forcing myself awake.

Revie stood and called Scout to his side with a quiet click of his tongue. Her four paws thudded tiredly against the ground from the couch.

His steps slowly neared me, and he carefully brushed away a stray strand of hair from my face. And then his warm lips pressed against my cheek, planting a silent kiss. I didn't have time to react to the simple gesture, though my once even breaths quickened. Whether Revie noticed or not remained a mystery.

Wordlessly, he left.

87 days left

Miranda

"Wanna ditch?" Hazel mumbled in my ear as I walked through the parking lot toward first period.

"What?"

"It's mental health day which means we don't actually do anything in any of our classes but talk about our feelings."

"We always ditch," Marci joined from the other side. "We're going to the mall this time."

Carter and Evan's suspensions forced the two girls to accept me as a fellow "girlfriend" in the week following the fistfight. Hazel was right when she'd said things would change between homecoming and prom, but I never imagined that would mean the three of us would end up as besties. Or even close at all. It just happened, and I didn't fight it because I didn't have any other option. And Hazel didn't fight it because my name was almost as popular around school as her's at that point, and she'd rather associate with "Miranda, the new girl," than lose her status by dropping me.

"What time?"

"Now," Hazel laughed.

"They don't even, like, take attendance today," Marci added. "For the most part."

Hazel glared at her to stop talking. "Are you coming or not?"

"Sure," I caved, though I didn't really have much of a choice. The two of them had already herded me through Marci's open car door. They closed me in as the school bell rang. I expected my gut to drop or my heart to hammer or anything to make me regret the sudden decision, but guilt stayed a safe distance away as Marci drove us out of the lot. I chuckled. "I've never ditched before," I admitted.

"We figured as much," Hazel sighed from shotgun. She passed back sunglasses from the glovebox to shield my squinting eyes from the sun reflecting against Marci's dirty windows. "But virgins are more fun, anyway." She half-giggled-half-squealed with excitement as we sped towards the mall an hour's drive away.

Gail

I found Kat making out with a new boy—new because I'd never met him before, but that was probably just because I was still the new girl—before first hour against some freshman lockers. At lunch, Revie told me the boy's name was Thomas. Kendal didn't mind Thomas. Revie didn't seem to care at all because, as he put it, "he's just a boy toy." I didn't ask more questions after that, mostly because Revie hated the topic of conversation enough to use the term "boy toy," and partly because Kat had started strutting her way through the cafeteria towards us.

Kat hated mental health day because the counselors knew she took antidepressants. Apparently that entailed being called out of classes for "checkins" which, as Kat put it, were an "hour of torture."

"I hate it when other generations try to tell our generation why we're depressed," she complained as she sat to join us at lunch. She wore a sweatshirt. And jeans. The sight was overwhelming for being underwhelming, and I couldn't wait for the day to be over so we could have the normal Kat back.

"Well, what would you say if they asked you?" I asked.

"I don't know. Nobody ever has."

Kendal leaned towards her. "Why are you depressed, Kat?"

She didn't answer, but she didn't have to. We all understood. Aside from her constant attempts to make us understand, we've all felt it, even if just for an instant. The hard part was explaining it to the adults who didn't seem to have ever felt it. We knew mental health days didn't do anything. We knew depression wasn't always fatal, and Kat wasn't Abi.

Kat was fine.

Kat had us.

But then again, they thought the same about Abi.

So now we have a mental health day.

"I just don't get what they want me to say," Kat muttered. "I could say I'm not gonna kill myself, and they'd call me a liar. And then I'd say I will kill myself and they'd say I'm over-exaggerating."

"Why do you have to talk about killing yourself at all?" Revie interjected.

"Because they don't care about the rest of it."

"Well, we do," Revie snapped. "That's all that matters, Kit."

"Unfortunately, we aren't the only people in the universe, Revie."

"Unfortunately indeed," Kendal joked, which effectively lightened the tension around us.

Revie grinned mischievously at the sight of something behind me. I turned to see three students enter the cafeteria with shallow, open boxes hung around their necks. Kat groaned as they neared. "I didn't know they still do those."

"What are 'those?'" I questioned.

Revie's smile widened. "I'm gonna go get something from my locker. Wanna come?" The question was for Kendal, who agreed, and the boys left Kat and I alone as one of the basket-carrying students approached.

"Kat Low," he said as he dropped a bundle of lollipops onto the table in front of my friend. His wide eyes looked to me and his hand fumbled between two separate bundles of candy.

"Gail," Kat helped him.

He smiled and handed me the smaller of the two packages under the name "Jerkins." I studied the candies, each with a handwritten note attached. "What are these?"

"Candy grams," Kat explained, already discarding two of hers from boys she didn't like back. She picked up the third fondly and scanned it with eager eyes. "My gosh he's so corny it hurts," she complained through a wide smile.

I leaned over to see a long note signed by Kendal in her hands. Another from Revie waited on the table. Kat nodded toward the two I received. "You have your own."

I read the first.

Thanks for saving us from ourselves. We'd be hopeless without you… I know from experience.

-Kendal

Kat snatched mine from Revie before I could read it for myself. Her already broad smile widened. "Oh my gosh."

I ripped it from her hands before she could finish and she ran around the table to read the small, messy handwriting over my shoulder.

I think saying I love you would be a bit too far, so I'll just say I like you and leave it at that. And I'm sorry for anything I did that could ruin you feeling the same, because that's all I want. You're all I want.

Sincerely, (and I mean sincerely,) Liam

"He even signed his first name," Kat gasped. "What happened between you two?" She pulled her legs over the bench to sit beside me, head rested in her hands while she waited for the answer.

"We kissed," I admitted, unaware of how desperate I'd been to tell somebody until I finally did. Kat practically squealed but I pressed a hand on her shoulder to calm her down. "And I pushed him away because I felt weird about it."

"What? Why?"

"Because he was talking about how I reminded him of Abi," I explained.

"Oh."

"It was just really strange," I mumbled.

"Well do you like him back?"

"I don't know!"
Her face changed from sympathetic to protective. Of Revie, not me. "Oh, BS. Do you like him or not?"

"That's an unfair question," I fired back.

"Gail…"
"Kat…"

"Just answer the damn question!"

"I want to." But I just couldn't fall for a boy still in love with the dead girl I reminded him of. "I wish I did. Or could."

"You have to tell him."

"Feelings change," I tried, sure telling Revie how I really felt fell at the bottom of my agenda. Admitting it to myself was hard enough.

"He's been hurt too much in the past year for me to let you get away with that," Kat said slowly, as if I wouldn't understand. "Please tell him."

"I will," I reassured her, careful to not say when.

With my agreement, she relaxed.

"So Thomas," I teased.

She pushed me playfully. We both laughed to remind each other that what we shared would never be as complicated as our relationships with boys; no matter how tricky being a girl was, being a girl in love would always be worse.

Miranda

"There's a lot of good things about dying young, you know?" Hazel was saying as I window-shopped at all the stores we passed. Our steps echoed against the nearly vacant tile floor in the strangely silent mall.

"Like what?" I asked.

"For starters you don't have to die old," she explained. "Or even be old."

"Being old can't be that bad," Marci defended.

"It's gross," Hazel concluded, and what had been gossip about Abi Bowen came to an abrupt stop.

We wandered into Macy's. It took Marci mere seconds to find a skirt and shirt she liked. Hazel nodded in approval. Moments later I found myself in a dressing room with her while Hazel used the bathroom.

Marci quickly pulled her mini backpack off. She peeled back the taut zipper to reveal a white shirt and jean skirt identical to the clothes weighing down the hangers in her hands. "Here," she handed me the full hangers and began to undress.

"Whatcha doin'?" I asked, more from skepticism than curiosity.

She began to undress and stuff her previous outfit into the small bag. "Hazel thinks it's cool when I shoplift," she started explaining. She jumped awkwardly out of her velvety skirt. "The only problem is I, like, don't like shoplifting."

"So you take clothes from home that look like clothes here?"

"No," she said, as if, of all things, that was the absurd one. "I bought these last week and, like, hid the doubles so I could, like, grab them when we came back."

"So you drove an hour out," I clarified, "tried on and bought an outfit and drove an hour home just so you could impress Hazel by fake shoplifting?" The truth was so absurdly strange I had to keep myself from laughing.

"And?"

"Nothing. It's just interesting, that's all."

"Which is what Hazel thinks," she said triumphantly. She handed me her discarded velvet skirt. "Put this on. It'll look good on you."

I slowly did as she said, admittedly excited to wear something of Marci's. I couldn't say no after she said I'd look good, considering how amazing it already looked on her.

"Doesn't it get exhausting?" I asked.

"What?"

"Trying to impress her all the time."

"We all do it." She handed me the backpack to shove our old clothes inside.

"I don't."

"Not yet," she said matter-of-factly.

I didn't feel like arguing. "Whatever."

Marci threw her gorgeously long dark hair over her shoulder to admire herself in the mirror. She made the seemingly ordinary getup stunning with her thin waist and heavy-set chest. Her long legs spilled out of the skirt and seemed to last forever. I knew Hazel had to envy her for those. I did, and I didn't have to wear six-inch heels to clear five and a half feet.

"Come here." She pulled me against her and we studied our reflections. She delighted in her skirt around my waist. "You look good."

"Look who's talking."

She just laughed. "You wanna know something?" she whispered so quietly I barely heard.

"Sure."

"She's not really blonde."

"You mean Hazel?" I guess that would explain the naturally dark eyelashes and perfectly tanned skin.

Marci nodded vigorously. "She dyes it once every, like, two weeks so people don't know."

"Don't know she's not blonde?"

She just kept nodding, like a kid breaking an unspoken rule.

"Didn't people know her before she dyed it though?"

"They just thought it changed over the summer. Hair does that sometimes."

"I guess…"

"Don't tell her I told you," she snapped. "This can be our thing."

I didn't bother to critique how our thing was in fact a secret about Hazel's thing. Or that Hazel's natural hair color didn't actually matter. Or maybe it did and I just didn't know why. "Sure."

After that she stepped away from the door so I could lead us out of the stuffy space. Hazel waited against a wall outside, eyes glued to her phone. She barely looked up to acknowledge us and Marci's "shoplifted" outfit before strutting out, one of us on either side. "I like it."

Marci beamed. "Thanks."

"I was talking about Miranda's."

Marci glared at my waist and the skirt she wore only minutes before. I would pity her if I weren't too busy enjoying myself.

Sydney

November 5th- I don't hate myself. I swear I don't.

-Sydney Jerkins

"Sydney, you were marked absent today," Dad yelled after me as I ran towards my room.

"I wasn't."

"Then why did your teacher call to let me know that you weren't in class?"

"Well I'm not the only one with this face, am I? They just got the wrong name or something."

Gail

"Gail, were you absent today?" Dad called.

"No." But Miranda had been… sometimes I pitied my sister for her reliance on being accepted by bad people. Then I remembered she's just as bad as the rest of them, and for a second I grieved the death of the innocent girl I grew up with. And then my phone lit up with a text from Revie and a car buzzed quietly on the street outside my window and everything went back to normal. And I went back to despising my sister as if I always had.