The Art of Losing(6)

The only person Tilly let in was my best friend, Cassidy, who had spent more time with my family than her own over the last ten years. With three younger siblings, I think she liked the quiet of our house as much as she liked that Mom stocked her favorite snacks and cereal alongside mine and Audrey’s.

Cassidy’s parents weren’t neglectful or anything; they were just distracted. Her grandmother had broken a hip two days ago, so her mom took her two younger brothers, Loren and Kelly, to Richmond to stay with her. Cassidy’s father had a business trip that couldn’t be rescheduled, so the Finches left her in charge of her fourteen-year-old sister, Morgan.

It wasn’t like Cassidy to throw a party while her parents were away, but it was too good an opportunity to pass up. Still, she’d been nervous about it. Nervous they’d find out, nervous that no one would come, nervous that too many people would come. Nervous that Morgan would rat her out. I promised I’d be there to make her feel better if no one showed up. And I was.

So when I texted Cassidy, she answered right away, saying she’d come as soon as she could. She added a dozen x’s and o’s.

She opened the hospital room door an hour later. Mom gave her a long look, hugged her, then took Dad’s hand and left the room.

I knew what Cassidy was thinking when her eyes settled on Audrey’s inert body because I’d thought it, too. My sister was unrecognizable.

Tubes were shoved down her throat. Swollen bruises under her eyes squeezed the lids shut. She hardly looked human. Not to mention that her head was wrapped in gauze, her arm set in a contraption and propped up at her side, and her body was hooked up to so many machines that there were wires snaking out from under every available opening in her hospital gown. Her right cheek and her chin were burned from the airbag, and her chest was bruised from the seat belt. Purple, red, blue, and black cut angry swaths across her skin.

She wasn’t sleeping, but she clearly wasn’t dead either. She was in some horrible purgatory where no one could reach her.

Cassidy didn’t comment; she just hugged me.

I closed my eyes and leaned into the warmth of her embrace and the lavender scent of her shampoo. But even though her hair was still wet from her shower, she exuded the slight tang of alcohol, and I couldn’t help but wonder how hungover she was.

“I’m so sorry,” she finally whispered. “I wish I could’ve been here sooner, but I was up all night trying to find someone to cover for me at work and you’d turned your phone off, so I couldn’t call you.” She was trembling.

“It’s okay,” I said, squeezing her harder. “Did you find someone to work for you?”

She released me and sat in the chair Mom had vacated. “Yeah, reluctantly. The Flakey Pastry customers will have their coffee and croissants.”

I tried to smile, but both of our expressions were pained.

“I’m sorry,” she said again, her eyes flicking toward Audrey.

“Thanks,” I said.

But Cassidy shook her head. “No, I’m really sorry. It was my party. At my house. I’m responsible for what happened.”

“This is not your fault,” I grumbled. “Mike didn’t have to drink last night just because you had a party.” But when my eyes met hers, I saw what she didn’t need to say aloud. Mike wouldn’t have been able to keep himself from drinking, even if he had bothered to try. “Okay, fine, but he didn’t need you to have a party to get drunk.”

She sighed and leaned back in her seat. “No, I guess not.”

“Trust me.”

“Have you talked to Mike since . . . it happened?” she asked.

“No,” I said brusquely. “I haven’t talked to him and I don’t plan to, ever again.”

Cassidy raised her eyebrows. She had never been Mike’s biggest fan, and she knew that I had wanted to break up with him for weeks. But she didn’t know what happened. She didn’t know what he’d done or what shape he was in now.

“How can I, Cass? He could have killed Audrey. And yet he’s fine. He’s going to walk out of this hospital with barely a scratch.”

“Okay, but . . .” Her voice trailed off when she saw the tears welling in my eyes. “Harley, is there something you aren’t telling me?”

I didn’t want to tell her. For Audrey’s sake, and for my own. It was humiliating.

But Cassidy was the one who knew all my secrets. And she had never broken my trust.

She knew about the time I kissed Harrison Sanders on a dare at a party in middle school, even though he was the scrawniest kid in our class, and I made a big deal about wiping my mouth off afterward. I felt bad about it every time I saw him after that. She knew about the time I threw up in a Ziploc bag in the back of the bus on a field trip in third grade and left it there, telling no one that I was feverish and nauseated, because I wanted to see the new baby panda at the zoo. She knew about the time Rafael Juarez, my next-door neighbor, asked me to sneak out to meet him one night the summer before eighth grade. How I waited for him for an hour and how he never showed.

She’d never told anyone any of it.

I steeled myself. “Mike cheated on me,” I confessed. “With Audrey.”

Cassidy’s eyes went wide with disbelief. “What? When?”

“Last night, at the party. And then I walked out and left them behind to . . .” I let my voice trail off and gestured at Audrey’s inert body in front of us. “My sister, Cass,” I said. “She said they didn’t have sex, but still. How could they do that?”

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