The Art of Losing(9)

So I tried to be friendly. I drove the two of them to the mall and let them hang out with me and Cassidy sometimes. I invited them to parties, including the one at Cassidy’s house.

Neema approached Audrey’s bed and picked up her limp hand. She had to curl Audrey’s fingers around her own to hold it in place, otherwise it would drop back to the bed.

“Why did this happen?” she whispered. I didn’t think she was looking for an answer, but then she spun around to look at me. “What was she doing in the car with your boyfriend? Why didn’t you drive her home?”

My chest felt tight as I clutched at my necklace. “She didn’t tell you?” I said.

Neema shook her head. “No, I left early. Before you did.”

I felt her judgment like a slap. Audrey couldn’t have gotten a ride home from Neema. When I left after walking in on her and Mike, he was her only option.

“I wanted to go home; she wanted to stay,” I lied. It was sort of true. “So she found another ride.” I pushed away the anger at Mike. I was used to doing that. But the anger at myself was too powerful to ignore.

Neema turned, staring down at her friend. “She can’t die,” she whispered. A tear slipped down her cheek and she swiped at it angrily. “We left her there alone.” She leaned down and kissed my sister lightly on the forehead. “I’m sorry,” Neema whispered.

A tear slid down my cheek. But I wasn’t so much devastated as I was angry. At too many people to even keep track. Including myself. And now, Neema was apologizing for me, and in doing so, she was also blaming me.

I could feel my guilt beginning to simmer. I was a geyser and it was only a matter of time before I exploded.

“Don’t apologize,” I said.

Neema flinched slightly. My voice was louder than I’d intended.

“It’s my fault that she’s here,” I added.

Neema’s watery eyes were wide. Her lips quivered as she brushed past me toward the door.

“That doesn’t make you feel better?” I snapped at her back. “That it’s my fault? That I’ve thought that every second since it happened?” I was almost shouting now. “Did you think I hadn’t apologized?”

Neema’s father pushed the door open, his face a mask of disapproval.

“I think we should go,” he said to Neema while glaring at me. “Clearly, this is a very stressful time.”

He closed the door behind Neema before I could say another word. Not that it would have mattered. She was already halfway down the hall.

I sighed, flopping down in the chair next to Audrey’s bed.

He was right. It was a “stressful time.” My sister might die.

And yet Audrey’s betrayal poisoned every second, no matter how hard I tried to forget. It reinforced every miserable, niggling suspicion I had always tried to push out of my thoughts: that Audrey was the more desirable Langston sister.

This was my proof.

I was sneaking out of the hospital to smoke one of Aunt Tilly’s cigarettes when I heard his voice.


I froze. I should have known I’d bump into him.

Mike sat on the little brick wall outside the Emergency Room, hunched over in the bright mid-morning sun. The glare was too bright, but it highlighted how terrible he looked. His wavy blond hair was tousled on one side and matted with blood on the other. He had a bandage above one eyebrow and a burn like Audrey’s on his cheek. He was wearing the same T-shirt I had last seen crumpled on the floor of my best friend’s bedroom.

“What do you want?” I said through clenched teeth.

He stood and put out an arm to steady himself on the wall. He was wobbly, disoriented. Good, I thought.

“Can we talk?” he asked. His voice was hoarse.

I squinted at him. “No,” I said. I turned to walk away, but he hustled up behind me, clearly in pain. I could see the strain on his face.

“Please, Harley?” he said. He reached out for me, but I yanked my arm away violently.

“Don’t touch me,” I spat. “The fact that you’re walking out of here right now, and she’s . . . she’s . . .” The words got stuck in my throat.

He didn’t move to follow me when I stepped out of his reach. I headed toward the shady side of the parking lot, catching a glimpse of his mom’s car as she pulled under the awning that covered the ER entrance.

“I’m sorry,” he shouted after me, his voice breaking.

I willed myself not to turn around. Instead, I ran, just like Neema had run from me. I shouted silently: That’s not enough.

One Year Ago

Walking down the hallway at my school isn’t like the scenes you see in movies. There are no girls tossing their hair while guys check them out. No one is slapping high fives about last night’s big game. No nerds are being tripped or bullied. The social torture is much more subtle.

Audrey’s English class was held next door to the AP English class during the same period. Her class was full of athletes and slackers, the kids who struggled, and the ones who had learning disabilities. And while no one would make fun of her publicly, everything felt deliberate to Audrey—her friends discussing the books they were reading in class that would take her months to get through, talking about the colleges they were planning to apply to that they knew she couldn’t get into—and she ended up in tears a lot.

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