The Good Goodbye(5)

By: Carla Buckley



The buzz is too loud to be a fly. A bee?

I can’t open my eyes. I feel darkness pressing down on me. Something brushes my cheek.

“…eight milligrams.”

“When was her last morphine?”

Who are they? Why are they in my room? Fear. I want my mom. I want my dad.

“…think she’s awake.”

“I’m Dr. Morris. I’m taking care of you. Are you in pain?”

Yes.

“You were in a fire. Do you remember?”

So hot I can’t breathe. Flames and greasy, awful smoke. Rory twists away, her hair swinging out in a glowing circle, shrieking as Hunter flails around. I can’t help him. I’m going to be sick. I gag, scrabble at the sheets. Something’s stuck in my throat. I’m choking on it. My heart gallops, faster and faster. I’m screaming. Why can’t they hear me? Where’s my mom?

“It’s okay. Don’t worry. That’s just a tube helping you breathe. You’re going to be okay.” Dr. Morris turns away. “Increase the drip.”

Wait! A swoosh of heat. Flames leap across my bed, race up the walls. They claw at me. They hiss. Screaming so animal I feel my skin rip.

You were in a fire. Do you remember?

Why was I there? Why didn’t I get out? Why can’t I remember?





Rory




THE ENVELOPE ARRIVES thick, crisp, and white. My mom practically dances, handing it to me at breakfast; she doesn’t even do her usual up-and-down scan of what I’m wearing. It’s all about the envelope. Mom must’ve bribed the mailman to come to our house first. That’s just the kind of thing she’d do. My dad’s already left for work—not a big deal, he’s always at the restaurant, but I thought that today, of all days, he’d hold off going in. “Open it,” Mom urges. Her red hair’s combed back, her lipstick perfectly applied. She’s got on her alligator pumps with the three-inch heels—she must have a breakfast meeting with someone really important.

She stood at the foot of the stairs calling up to me the whole time I was getting ready, but I’d taken my time, texturizing my hair and braiding it into a fishtail, trying on my Miu Miu sneakers to see if the ribbons were too much, switching them for Kate Spade flats—which looked great but told everyone I was trying—and ending up with blue Sperrys, then searching forever for my diamond studs. I’d dabbed concealer on the tiny scar on my forearm and spritzed on perfume. I sit at the kitchen table and pull my coffee cup toward me. “In a minute.”

The phone rings—Aunt Nat, for sure—and Mom frowns but doesn’t answer it. “Don’t be like that, Rory. Open it, or I will.”

“It’s a felony to open somebody else’s mail,” I inform her, splashing in fat-free hazelnut creamer until my coffee turns a light brown. Her face sort of crumples.

“Whatever.” I take the stupid envelope. I know what the letter says—I was online exactly at midnight and saw the results for myself—but I’m still nervous as I tear open the flap. What if it had been a mistake? But there it is, confirmed in black and white. I read the first word aloud, Congratulations, and my mom shrieks and throws her arms around me. You’d think she was the one who’d just gotten into Harvard.



At school, everyone’s buzzing in the halls. There are some girls with their heads down, not looking at anyone as they shove books into their lockers. They’ll be the ones stuck at the no-name schools clustered around Maryland and Virginia, where all you have to do to get in is breathe. Jessica got into Brown, and Beth is going to Cornell. Emilie got wait-listed for Dartmouth, but who cares, she says. She got into Smith, and Dartmouth can fuck itself. Mackenzie got into Princeton, but everyone knows her dad’s BFFs with the dean. It would have been pathetic if she hadn’t. I hug her anyway. “Congrats,” I say. “You’re going to do awesome.”

“So? What about you?” she asks. I can tell she doesn’t really want to know. She’d applied to Harvard, too, but it’s obvious how that had turned out.

By now there’s a crowd of girls standing around, listening. I shrug, but feel myself grinning.

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