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Authors: Jenny Han

Ashes to Ashes

BOOK: Ashes to Ashes
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For Zareen Jaffery

“Therein lives the defect of revenge: it's all in the anticipation; the thing itself is a pain, not a pleasure; at least the pain is the biggest end of it.”

—Mark Twain


rear balcony of Holy Lady of the Sea, and it is pure agony. There aren't enough tears in the whole wide world. My sobs echo those of the congregation below me.

There is a brass urn on the white marble altar. And a sea of flowers. Roses and mums and lilies and snapdragons, a cross made of white carnations, wreaths with pink ribbons hanging down the front. So many flowers, even though it's snowing on the other side of the stained-glass windows.

I don't know when I got here. I don't know what day it is. I don't know the time.

An old lady takes a seat at the organ behind me and begins a sad hymn. Everyone stands up, and the preacher walks somberly down the center aisle, followed by two altar boys holding big wooden crosses. It is a struggle for my mom to keep up. I see her through my tears. Black pencil skirt, black sweater. She can barely stand. Aunt Bette supports her on one side, my father on the other.

I rub my eyes and look again. It's not my mom. It's Ms. Holtz. She's got the same curly hair, same petite frame as Rennie. The two people flanking her I've never seen before.

And the huge picture on an easel next to the urn is not one of me. It's Rennie in a yellow sundress, her hair down and curly and tousled from the offshore breeze. She's wearing an innocent expression, but she has mischief in her eyes. She looks about fifteen or sixteen. Younger than I remember her ever seeming.

This isn't my funeral. It's Rennie's.

It's so crowded that ushers have brought in extra folding chairs to put in the aisles and next to the confessionals. That's where I see Kat. Her father stands behind her. Pat squeezes her hand. I can tell by the way Kat's shoulders rise and fall that she's sobbing.

When Ms. Holtz passes the Cho family, she stops and reaches out with a shaky hand to touch Lillia's shoulder. She wants Lillia to come sit with her in the front pew. Lillia looks nervous, but Mrs. Cho gives her daughter an encouraging nod.

On her way to her new seat, Lillia passes Reeve and his family. His parents and his brothers and their girlfriends. They take up almost the whole row. Reeve's just had a haircut; the skin on his neck is pink. He's wearing the suit he wore to homecoming. Lillia doesn't look at him, and he doesn't look at her. Reeve starts flipping through a prayer book as she lowers her head and takes her seat.

I scan the rafters, the eaves, and the statuary.

Rennie? Are you here too?

I keep looking around, waiting for Rennie to show up. Only she never does. She's not here like I am.

What did I do to deserve this? To be stuck on Jar Island for eternity? Was it because I killed myself? I know how stupid it was. I just wanted to make Reeve feel sorry for what he'd done. I wanted to take it back as soon as I jumped off the chair with the rope around my neck, only I couldn't. It was too late. Can't God understand that it wasn't my fault? I never would have done it if it hadn't been for Reeve. He should be the one punished, not me.

The preacher asks us to bow our heads in prayer. I drop my chin and close my eyes.
Please let me leave this place. Let me find a way to heaven. Let me rest in peace.

When I open my eyes again, the church is empty. The lights are out; the flowers are gone.

And I'm all alone.

Chapter One

day, Nadia and I would be listening to the local morning radio show. She actually laughs at the corny jokes they tell, at the slide-whistle sound effects. I don't think their banter is very funny, but I do like hearing the celebrity gossip. Sometimes, if they are doing a giveaway or contest, Nadia will call using both our cell phones at the same time to up her chances of winning.

But not today. Not the first day back at school since Rennie died. Today as I drive us, the radio stays off. We ride in silence, except for the
swish, swish, swish
of the wipers as
they push the tiny snowflakes off my windshield.

Nadia tries to peel off her puffer jacket while keeping her seat belt buckled. “Can you turn the heat down? It's boiling in here.”

I glance at the dashboard. I've got the dial set to high, plus my heated seats are cranked. It's because I can't get warm. My body's been cold since I heard the news. “Sorry,” I say.

I pull into a parking spot and watch for a second as everyone slowly marches into school. It's like a silent movie. No one is talking or joking or laughing. I wonder, will school ever feel normal again, without Rennie here?

I'm sure not.

Sometimes, when I was annoyed with her, I'd tell myself that Rennie wasn't as big a force as she liked to think she was. That she didn't hold so much sway, so much power over our school. But now that she's gone, I know it was true. This place is dead without her.

Nadia unclicks her seat belt. “Do you want me to walk in with you?”

I shake my head. “I'll be fine.” As Nadia reaches into the backseat for her book bag, I say, “You know, there are supposed to be grief counselors here today. If you feel like talking to anyone. I've heard Ms. Chirazo is nice.”

Nadia nods, and she says in a timid voice, “You too, okay?”

I nod and say, “Of course,” but I don't feel like talking. Not
to anybody. I begged my mom to let me stay home sick today. Begged and pleaded. I haven't been sleeping well. At all, really. I lie in the dark for hours and hours, but I never fall asleep.

I grab Nadi by the sleeve before she's out of my car. “Hey. Don't worry about me. I'm fine.” I know my voice sounds tired, weak, so I smile to compensate.

The worst part is—I know people will be feeling sorry for me. If only they knew the truth, that Rennie hated me before she died. That I betrayed her worse than anyone else could have. When I close my eyes, I keep seeing flashes of what happened in those last moments together. Her showing Reeve the pictures she'd found of me drugging him at homecoming. Her slapping me across the face. Her sobbing, hating me for betraying her.

And then there's Mary.

The thought of seeing her today makes me want to crawl into a hole. How am I going to tell her about Reeve? And what, exactly, am I going to say? That I made a mistake but it's over now? I've practiced it in my head so many times, but I still don't know the right words.

As I walk through the parking lot, I keep my eye out for Kat's car, but I don't see it either. I owe her a million phone calls. I'm sure she's pissed at me too.

I keep waiting for this to turn out to be a bad dream. To wake up and have things be the way they were. I wouldn't even care
if Rennie hated me for the rest of her life for what happened on New Year's with Reeve. Or if she never spoke to me again. All I want is for her to be alive.

I see her everywhere. The first-floor trophy case, where we'd hang out freshman year when it got too cold to sit outside by the fountain. The janitor's closet, where we'd hide notes for each other between classes. Her locker, sophomore year.

I feel the tears come, but I don't want to cry anymore.

I'm at my locker when Ash comes running down the hallway, pushing her way past people to get to me. “Lil,” she moans, and she throws her arms around me, sobbing hysterically. I have the uncharitable thought that it's like she's in a movie about a girl who died in a car accident. Other people in the hallway turn and look at us.

I let her cry in my arms for a minute, and then I break away from her. “I'm gonna go get a juice at the vending machine,” I say. “Do you want anything?” I'm not trying to be cold, but I can't deal with her right now. It's just too much.

She shakes her head. “I'll come with you, though.”

“No, stay here. I'll be right back,” I say. I give her a peck on the cheek and dart away. I'm halfway down the hall, thinking maybe I'll just keep walking, maybe I'll walk right out of here and go back home, when someone grabs my arm from behind me.


“Lil,” he says. “You hanging in there?”

“Yes.” Just barely.

Alex doesn't look so good either. He has shadows under his eyes, stubble on his chin. He rubs his eyes and looks around and then says, “I keep expecting to see Rennie. It feels . . . really empty here without her. It's like nobody knows what to do anymore without her here to tell us.”

That's exactly how it feels. Exactly. And it's such a relief that someone gets it. I let out a breath that comes out more like a gasp, and Alex reaches for me and I let him hold me, and it feels like his arms are the only thing keeping me upright.

I don't know what, if anything, Alex knows about the things that went down between Reeve, Rennie, and me on New Year's Eve, but I'm so thankful that he's here right now. This is who he's always been to me, the person who knows what I need, without me having to ask. Even when I don't deserve it.

Chapter Two

second period, and Mr. Turnshek, the school safety officer, finally catches me during third. I'm smoking a cigarette underneath the stairs, where I found Mary ditching a test that one time. I was hoping she would be here. I came to school early this morning and waited for her at her locker. I wanted to hear her excuse for why she never called me or stopped by my house. By this time, she has to know that Rennie's dead.

But Mary never showed.

Mr. Turnshek looks at me, aghast.

“I know, I know,” I say, letting go of the smoke in my lungs before standing up. “Principal's office.” I put the cigarette out on the wall. It leaves an ashy circle on the cinder block.

I've been going through nearly two packs a day since Rennie died. I can't even taste my food anymore, and the skin between my pointer and middle fingers is starting to turn yellow. I know it's bad; I should quit before I really get addicted. I tell myself that anyway, right before each cig I light up.

“You'd better believe it, DeBrassio,” Turnshek says, his arms folded.

I guess part of me wanted to get caught. I don't know. This whole day has annoyed me. Everyone mourning, crying over Rennie. Everyone with arms around each other. It's like the whole school is propping each other up. Except no one's doing that for me. Most of the underclassmen don't even know that Rennie and I used to be best friends back in the day. They assume that I don't care that she's dead.

Or worse, that I'm happy.

I nearly lost it when I overheard one freshman cheerleader bitch mutter something under her breath when I passed her in the hall. I spun around and walked straight up to her, put my nose up to hers, and dared her to say whatever it was to my face. She practically crapped her designer jeans.

I shouldn't expect that dummy to understand what I'm going
through. But Lillia and Mary—they know my history with Rennie. Just because we weren't friends for the last few years of high school doesn't mean that her death isn't freaking ripping me apart. It doesn't mean that I don't need to talk shit out, have a good cry. After all, I was the last person to see Rennie alive. And at the end we were on good terms.

Not like her and Lillia.

I've texted Lil a bunch of times, but she hasn't written back once. She's probably been camped out at Rennie's condo with the rest of that crew, drying each other's tears. Either that or she feels guilty because I know that she left with Reeve that night. I'm trying not to think this way, but I wouldn't be surprised if she quit talking to me. Actually, she
keep a low profile. People must be wondering why the hell Rennie left her own damn party in the first place. If they found out why, shit would surely hit the fan.

BOOK: Ashes to Ashes
9.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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