by China DeSpain
There are at least a million ways to die, I’m pretty sure, but so far I’ve only managed to list about 50 methods in the notebook I carry with me at all times. Perched on the steps outside of school, I read over the beginning of my list, rolling the clicker of my pen against my upper lip.
blunt force trauma
I glance at the rest of the list and I know I’m missing some. I twirl my pen again. Hit by car!, I think. I jot it down. I’m still pondering more options when Erica, my best friend, plonks down beside me. I slam the notebook shut.
“Landry, what are you doing?”
“Sure.” She rolls her eyes and tugs at my hand. “Come on! We’re gonna be late. Everybody else left fifteen minutes ago.”
I give her my best I-don’t-wanna look. “Do we have to?”
“Yes. It’s like, an hour out of your life, max. Besides, Christian will be there.”
“Can’t we go to Vine and Bean instead?” If I have to go out, I’d at least prefer to go to my favorite cafe.
“No. We’re doing this. Everyone’s waiting.”
A new dessert bistro opened in our town three weeks ago, and it’s been getting rave reviews. Erica and the rest of our friends made plans to go there after school today, and she’s determined to drag me along. She thinks she can dangle Christian—who I had a crush on two years ago—in front of me and I’ll magically want to go.
But I don’t. I never want to go anywhere. If I had my way, I’d stay home in bed all the time, thinking about all the infinite ways I could die.
But Erica never takes no for an answer, which is why she’s head of the student council, president of the honor society, and our class treasurer. She tows me to her car, a hand-me-down Accord, and all but shoves me into the passenger seat.
“We’re doing this,” she says. “All I ask is one hour. One hour to have fun. You remember fun, right? It’s what we used to have before you turned into Eeyore.”
I have to give Erica credit. She has always stuck by me, ever since we were kids. Even now, when all I want to do is sleep, she forces a social life on me. I’d resent it if it weren’t so sincere. I know she’s trying to make me happy again.
The drive to The Sweet Spot takes less than ten minutes. Erica hustles me in, and even though the booth is already full, she somehow maneuvers me next to Christian.
“Hey, Landry,” he says softly.
His voice is one of the things I’ve always liked about him. Even though I’m not still into him that way, I appreciate how quiet and intense he is. Like he’s always thinking about something important.
“Hey, Christian,” I say.
He passes me a menu, and I feel my insulin spike just looking at it. Cakes, cupcakes, pies, tarts, ice cream…if it has sugar in it, it’s on the menu. Diabetes, I think, making a mental note to add it to the list.
Christian nudges my shoulder with his own. “Wanna split something?”
I nod. Cutting a dessert in half lessens the likelihood that the sugar content will kill me. “Sure. You pick.”
He flags the waiter down. “Can we get a Death by Chocolate to share?”
My stomach lurches. Did he actually just order something with death in the name? That cannot be a good sign.
Erica must sense my panic, because she whispers from my other side. “You okay?”
What am I supposed to say? That Christian’s cake order just triggered me? That now all I can think about is that word? Death. The end of life. A person extinguished like a flame. Poof. The very thing that happened to my dad six months ago, when his clogged arteries couldn’t handle the load anymore and his heart just gave up.
I shrug. “I guess so.”
The cake arrives and I make myself pick up my fork, but I can’t take a bite. Instead, I stare at the layers of chocolate and remember how, until recently, I would have dived face first into something like that. I used to love food. I used to be curvy. Not fat, really, but a little thick. But ever since Dad died, my body has withered along with my personality.
“This is really good,” Christian says. “You should try it.”
“Hey, you’re not on a diet, right? Because you look really skinny these days. You used to look better.”
I stare at him. “Gee, thanks.”
He blushes. “Sorry, that came out wrong. I just meant you used to look healthier. You’re not sick, are you?”
“No. I lost my appetite is all. Excuse me.” I push my way out of the booth, earning grumbles from my dislodged friends. I don’t care. I have to get out of here. I have to be alone.
I make it to the sidewalk before Erica catches up to me. Without a word, she walks me to her car and we both get in. But she doesn’t start the engine.
“Okay, talk to me. I know something’s going on with you, and I’ve tried to give you space. But I think you need to let it out now.”
I shove my bangs out of my eyes. “It’s nothing. Christian said something dumb and I let it get to me. That’s all.”
She puts her hand over mine, as gentle as a moth’s wing. “That’s not all. What’s up with you? Is this about your dad?”
My throat clogs, and I shrug, turning away so she won’t see the shine of tears in my eyes. She reaches over me and snags the backpack between my feet. Without a word, she fishes out my green notebook. She’s never asked me about it, but she’s caught me writing in it more than once. It was only a matter of time.
She reads silently for a moment, and shoves it back in my bag and tosses it all in the backseat. She throws an arm around me and pulls me as close as the center console will allow.
“Oh, Landry. I had no idea. I thought you were just grieving, but it’s more than that, huh?”
I swallow hard and nod.
“Have you told your mom?”
I shake my head.
“Have you told anybody?”
“Look, I’m not a doctor, but I think something’s wrong with you. You don’t eat, you don’t sleep, and from the look of that list, you’re having some scary thoughts. Do you want to kill yourself?”
I push away from her and meet her concerned gaze. “No! It’s the opposite. I’m terrified of dying. I keep that list so I know what to look out for.”
“What do you mean?”
I think about Dad, how unexpected it was. One minute he was with us, and the next he was gone. “Like, I’m trying to be…prepared? Alert. So nothing catches me off guard.”
She rolls her lips together, and her eyes are sad. “I really think you need to talk to a professional about this, but it won’t work unless you’re willing. Do you want help?”
I look at my feet. “I don’t know. I mean, I know the way I’m feeling isn’t right, but I barely remember any other way to be. And if I fix myself, if I get happy…that means I’m letting Dad down. I’m moving on.” As long as I’m sad, as long as I’m consumed with death, then I haven’t betrayed Dad by getting on with my life.
“Sweetie, that isn’t what he’d want for you. Your dad loved you so, so much. He would want you to be happy.”
A tear rolls down my cheek, and then another. “I know that. But I don’t know how.”
“Okay. That’s okay. I do. We’re gonna start with telling your mom.” She turns the key, and the Accord hums to life.
“I’m scared to tell her.”
Erica gives my hand a squeeze. “You’re not going to do it alone. I’m going with you. We’re going to explain how you’ve been feeling and that you need help. And we’re going to find someone who can get you through this.” She jerks a thumb toward the backseat. “And then we’re going to set that list on fire.” She’s so determined, so organized, so very Erica. This is the girl who practically runs our school, and if anyone can neatly get me back on track, it’s her.
I squeeze her hand back. “Thanks, Erica.”
“You’re welcome. It’s time to start living again, Landry.”
I take a deep, shuddering breath. I don’t know if I’m ready for this. I don’t know if I’m capable of getting better. But maybe it’s time to try. “Okay.”
“Good.” She smiles at me, hits the gas, and we’re off.
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