Authors: Courtney C. Stevens
To those with physical and emotional scars;
to those who feel sorry for the things they can’t change;
to those broken ones who possess a gentle strength;
to those who do the right thing in the wrong way:
your humanity is beautiful.
Night was like Christmas. There wasn’t nearly enough of it to go around, especially in June. At 8:55, I walked down our little bayside street, crossed the road, and wound through the lot of the Worthy Wayfarer toward what I hoped was an empty shore. My company consisted of sand, circular thoughts, and a wretched pair of shorts.
Fletcher, my therapist, thought getting me back in clothes that didn’t cover my whole body, even at night, was a step in the right direction. I’d agreed to try, and this was my first attempt at bare legs. It was dark, I was in my favorite place on the planet, and I was fine. Showing scars to no one
. That’s what I told myself as I reached the dune walk.
I loved the abandoned beach. Loved the sound of sloshing tide. Loved when the Florida sand was neither hot nor cold,
but perfectly warm between my painted toes. Over the last year, I’d forgotten the glorious
sound athletic fabric made during a run. That was the one thing about Fletcher’s challenge I was looking forward to. Six miles of
. I pressed pause on my playlist and listened deeply: gulf breeze, ocean, my heartbeat,
, and . . . dang it.
There were people on
Ducking into the sea grass, I watched the scene—a graduation party. I’d gotten an invite—a pity nod, I’m sure—and I’d deleted the message. The smoky smell of bonfire flames licking wood tempted me to join the party. But wearing shorts, with this many people around . . . I couldn’t think of anything worse.
This was Gray and Trent’s class get-together, not mine, but a few of my former classmates sat on towels. A group of seniors danced and lifted Solo cups and sang off-key verses. Others sat on driftwood logs talking and laughing. Graduation had been two nights ago, and they all seemed to be sucking the last of high school through a tiny straw.
Good for them.
The fire and moonlight made slipping through the dunes seem unlikely, but I needed to run. And I wanted to keep my word about the shorts. The moment I stepped out of the shadows to dart toward the empty coastline owned by the military, Gina yelled my name.
“Sadie.” The wave that came with her greeting was shallow and tentative, but her smile was canyon-deep.
She was genuinely happy to see me. If only I could reciprocate.
I froze on the spot and waited, standing between two towering dunes. There was something about being with an old friend that brought back habits, good and bad. Even after eleven months of awkward interactions.
“Hey, Gina,” I said when she was still a few steps away.
She wove her windblown mane into a tight knot as she approached, and I envied the casual way she put her cheekbones on display. “You got my text,” she said. “I hoped you’d come, but I can’t believe you’re here.”
I tugged on the edge of my shorts and pointed to my shoes. “Actually, I was out for a run.”
She didn’t comment on the shorts, but her gaze lingered on my thigh and a long triangular scar I called Pink Floyd.
“You could come say hi,” she suggested.
I backed away a few steps. “I don’t think so.”
Best friends, even former ones, were supposed to understand crap like social anxiety and scar exposure. All of my previous explanations had failed to register—or Gina couldn’t accept that sometimes when things changed, they didn’t change back. Even if we both wanted them to.
Gina’s response was to rocket-launch me into another lion’s den. “Um . . . Gray’s here. I know he’d love to see you.”
Every time we were together, she tried to sell me the same story. I didn’t know whether it was supposed to lessen her guilt or increase mine for avoiding him.
“Please stop trying to fix—”
“I’m just saying you should hear him out. He’s still not over you.” Gina toed the sand and made a concerted effort to lift her eyes to mine. “Six years is a lot to throw away.”
Gray Garrison and I were once comasters of the swings, sworn Potterheads, fellow indie band enthusiasts, and in some variation of young love, cooties and all, for every minute we’d known each other. A year ago, the high school halls had felt like a really long wedding aisle. A lot can change in a year.
“I’m sort of with Max,” I told her.
Yes, Max was in another country, and yes,
was a relationship of emails, but we were our version of together. And maybe if I admitted that now, she’d stop pushing Gray at me.
Gina’s pretty, scarless face—whose only technical imperfection was a smattering of adorable freckles—froze in surprise. “Um, that’s great, Sadie.” She shoved her hands into her pockets and shifted her weight back and forth before adding, “I just want to remind you there’s
, still nothing, between me and Gray.”
Except that one little bit of sex or something I’d interrupted.
“Not that it makes it okay, but we were all pretty messed up back then.”
Back then wasn’t that long ago.
“Neither of us ever meant”—she held up empty hands and gestured toward my face, toward the scar I called Idaho—“to hurt anyone.”
I knew that.
Knowing something wasn’t worth shit sometimes. This was exactly why I avoided talking to Gina. She always brought this up. Always told me she was so, so sorry. Always shoved me toward the past. And here we were back on that same treadmill.
The thing was, I believed her. Gray, too, for that matter. Neither made idle apologies or hurt people, especially me, intentionally. But they had, and I still couldn’t muster up an
It’s no big deal.
Or even an
It’s a huge deal and I can’t forgive you.
So she went on apologizing, and I went on keeping grudges.
Thank God for home school. At least I hadn’t heard this every day.
Gina continued her babble. “Wouldn’t it be nice to hang out again? You could walk over there with me, sit down, have a drink, ignore Gray if you want, tell me about running or surgeries or how Max is or . . . anything. I . . . miss you.”
I missed her, too. The words wouldn’t come out. I was immediately glad they hadn’t, because Gray’s hands landed on my shoulders, soft and gentle, interrupting everything. I knew they were his without spinning around. Body movements were like fingerprints; they were all unique. His was a choreography I used to dance to.
“Hey, you,” he said.
How did a voice hovering over an ear have that much power?
“Hey, you,” I said, and turned to face him.
Gray, with his boyish face and perfectly kissable nose. No
scars, no imperfections, except a right ear the tiniest bit lower than the left. He spread out his arms—a clear invitation—and out of either obligation or habit, I hugged him. His chin landed on top of my head, my face smooshed against his chest, his hands crisscrossed against my back.
Rubbing alcohol on open wounds hurt less.
One, we weren’t a couple anymore. Two, once you’ve been held, you know what it feels like when there’s no one to hold you. And three, he was Gray, both the guy and the color of this situation. Max and I emailed, but a computer couldn’t whisper in my ear. A computer didn’t have arms.
Gray let me go. “I’m glad you’re out of the house,” he said.
Not only was I out of the house, I was having a conversation with two—count them—people. Other than my parents, that didn’t happen very often. I wasn’t exactly scared of people, but people seemed scared of me.
“I was out for a run,” I explained again, taking several steps back.
“Oh. I thought maybe . . .” His words trailed away, but the implication was clear. He thought I had come to see him or Gina. They’d both texted me about this party earlier in the week.
On a whim, I tested a theory. More to remind myself I was right than because I believed he’d changed.
I looked Gray straight in the eyes.
He looked away.
That didn’t make him a monster, but it sure made me feel like one. Friendship, much less a relationship, was impossible when he couldn’t stand the sight of me. So I was the one who had officially broken it off.
“Still can’t do it,” I said.
He knew what
meant, and sighed his regret. Gina reined us in, placing her hands on our shoulders. Always the peacemaker.
“I need to go,” I said.
Before I sprinted away, Gina stopped me with a question. “Is Max coming back for the . . . anniversary?”
I nodded. If some people are knotted in friendship, we were all one big tangle. Gray and me. Gina and Trent. Max, Trent’s tagalong little brother. Our foursome, occasionally fivesome, used to be inseparable. Neighbors, couples, and the second generation of friends in our families.
Our parents had stuck together over the past year.
We hadn’t followed in their footsteps.
The wreck happened June 29. We were twenty-two days away from the one-year anniversary of Trent’s death.
“I need to go,” I said, more urgently than before.
“What about school?” she asked. “Are you coming back in the fall?”
I didn’t want to talk about school or the anniversary. I wanted to run.
“Sorry. I gotta go,” I said, in full retreat mode.
“I’ll check in later,” she said.
Gray just stood there sighing with his fingers laced behind his head. I’d heard him sigh more in the past year than in all the time we were a couple.
As I took off, my eyes drifted in the direction of the party. My old classmates were probably sighing too. Everyone out there knew about Trent, knew I’d gone through the window of his Yaris, knew why Gray and I broke up. They probably assumed I blamed Gina and Gray for more than cheating. (Fair assumption, as she was driving the car that caused my face to have a scar named Idaho. And he was right beside her.)
Maybe I did. Maybe I didn’t. Blame was crazy complicated. Some days, everything—Trent’s death, my face, all the breakups, Max leaving the country—was Gina and Gray’s fault. Some days, God was the fall guy. Some days, blame never entered my mind. I liked those days best. I didn’t want to be an angry jerk who sat around reminiscing about old grievances and pointing fingers, but I couldn’t seem to control the emotion with any accuracy.
All I knew was that the farther I got from the party, the more I wished Gina or Gray would come after me. Neither of them did, so I cranked up my music and ran. I wasn’t a sprinter, and after a mile, my lungs reminded me of that.
I slowed to a stop, put my hands on my knees, and took a deep breath. In front of me, five concrete pylons rose out of the water like a broken-down gate. “The Wall,” as we all called it,
was once a military building on the shore. Now, thanks to a hurricane, it was a gull stoop at the one-mile mark. This was where I wrote my list in the sand.
Because it was damaged.
Because what it once was didn’t matter to the birds.
Because I understood the Wall and the Wall understood me.
It was nice to have friendship with a place.
In the company of moonlight and Coldplay, I wrote the things I wanted from life this year.
1. Wear a tank top in public
2. Walk the line at graduation
3. Forgive Gina and Gray
4. Stop following. Start leading.
5. Drive a car again
6. Kiss someone without flinching
7. Visit the Fountain of Youth
Beneath the list, I scrawled the only Latin phrase I knew.
A posse ad esse.
It means . . . “from possibility to actuality.”
Apart from the Fountain of Youth, these were simple, achievable things, in concept. Hell, some of them I could do in a day. But I’d had many days, many opportunities, many lists in the sand, and no progress. Nearly every night I wrote these things.
And every night the ocean washed them away.
Tonight—probably because I’d seen Gina and Gray, or maybe because I felt like that old broken-down wall—I added one thing beside number three.
And tell them the truth.