Standing at the gravesite, I stare at the coffin, my mom inside. Dead. I don’t understand. Why did she do it? Leave me and Dad?
I glance at my father next to me, tears running down his face, and my own stay clumped in my throat. An ache spreads through my whole body.
Memories of a few days before trying to wake up Mom send the terror through me all over again. I close my eyes, not wanting to remember, only to picture her sprawled on her bed, an empty bottle of pills next to her.
I rub my hands across my face, trying to scrub the image from my mind.
As the crowd thins, my aunt approaches Dad. “I have some ladies from the church lined up to bring food over. Are you sure you don’t want Bob and me at your house today? As they bring it, I can take care of it for you. You won’t have to worry about anything.”
“No. I want to be left alone. Cancel them.”
“I know you’re hurting. You shouldn’t be alone at this time.”
My dad leans forward, his face inches from my aunt’s. “Don’t tell me what I need. I need her.”
My aunt pulls my father away a few steps and lowers her voice, but not enough that I don’t hear what she says. “Paige was sick. She didn’t mean to kill herself.”
Dad jerks away from my aunt, grabs my hand and tugs me toward the car. People try to stop him, but he ignores them.
“Mom killed herself?” I ask as he drives toward our home.
He doesn’t say anything.
He pulls into the driveway and twists toward me. “She didn’t want to be with us. She took sleeping pills so she never had to wake up.”
Mom? Leave us on purpose? No, she loved me.
“Go to Tommy’s house and play with him.” He pushes open his door and stomps to the house.
I don’t know what to do. Tears finally flood my eyes. I blink and climb from the car. Instead of going to Tommy’s across the street, I trudge toward the porch. I need Dad. I need to understand.
When I put my hand on the doorknob and turn it, a loud blast coming from inside, like a car backfiring, echoes through the air.
Fingering the necklace, Jared had given her for her seventeenth birthday, Kelly Winston cracked her bedroom door open. When she peeked out, her mother strode toward the staircase. Releasing a swoosh of air, Kelly snuck down the hall to her mom’s bathroom and pulled out the middle drawer where she kept her supply of medicine.
Kelly picked up the first bottle of a painkiller her mother had started taking last winter after her car wreck. Kelly shook one into her palm. She grabbed the next bottle, not sure what these pills were, but she pocketed several of them anyway, then moved on to the next medication, an old one for anxiety her mom had taken when Dad divorced her and moved away. She took three of them.
“Kelly,” her mother yelled from the foyer downstairs.
She shot straight up, her heart pounding, but she didn’t hear any footsteps approaching.
“Your date is here.”
She drew in a deep breath to calm her rapid heartbeat and quickly closed the drawer. “Coming, Mom.”
She stuffed the pills she’d taken into her jean pocket and hurried from her mother’s bathroom before she came looking for her. When Kelly saw Jared standing next to her mom in the foyer, she smiled and nodded once.
His mouth curving up, a dimple appearing in his left cheek, he winked at her.
“When are you going to be home?” her mother asked as she walked toward the kitchen.
“The party lasts until midnight so after that.”
“Don’t wake me when you come in. I’m exhausted and hope to go to bed early.”
“I won’t,” Kelly said, right before closing the front door. It was so easy to stay out when her mother took a sleeping pill. Mom would be out until tomorrow.
“What did you get?” Jared rounded the front of his Porsche.
After sliding into the front seat, she dug the dozen pills out of her pocket and laid her palm out flat to show him. “Painkillers, sleeping pills, and an assortment of others. Is that what you wanted?”
“You did great. This will be fun.”
“Are you sure your friends will be okay with me coming?”
“You’re my girlfriend. We’ve been dating for over two months.” At the stoplight, Jared looked at her, his blue eyes gleaming with male appreciation. “You’re the most beautiful girl at Summerton High School. I’ll be the envy of every guy at the party.”
Though his words flattered her, Kelly’s nerves tensed throughout her body. This was her first pill party. She’d heard of them from some of the other girls. She’d always wanted to be a part of the in crowd. Tonight she would be. Finally. All because Jared Montgomery, a hottie and a senior, had started dating her when she became one of the junior cheerleaders— after years of honing her skills and dieting constantly.
When Jared parked behind a warehouse, Kelly glanced at some of the other expensive cars. A few she recognized. “The party is here?”
“Yeah. This place isn’t in use right now. Perfect for what we want to do. Ready?”
She nodded, laying her quivering fingers on the door handle.
He clasped her shoulder, stopping her from leaving the car. “Just do what the others do. It’s a small group of my closest friends. You’ll be fine. This is such a rush. You’ll see what I mean tonight.”
Peering at him, she fortified herself with the knowledge he told her he loved her last week. All the kids were doing this. What harm could a few prescription drugs really do? They were all prescribed for someone to take. Her mom took several every day. It wasn’t the same as taking illegal drugs like meth or crack. Those could seriously mess with her mind.
As they walked toward the back entrance to the warehouse, hidden from the street, Jared grasped her hand, brought it to his lips, and kissed her knuckles. “Stay close and I’ll take care of you.”
His gaze connected with hers. Her stomach flip-flopped. He could always do that—make her feel so special. She certainly didn’t get any affirmation from her mother or her father who lived in Chicago and couldn’t be bothered with her.
Before going in, Jared tipped her face up and kissed her, then pushed the door open.
The beat of the music pulsated in the air. Four teens sat or stood around the huge cavernous warehouse—bare of any items as far as Kelly could see, except for a few crates used for the party. Beyond the pool of light, darkness lingered as though a black curtain encircled a small part of the building, cordoned off for the pill party.
Jared retrieved two beers from a cooler and passed one to Kelly. She hated the taste but noticed all the other kids had one. She’d pretend she liked it.
“Let’s put our drugs in the bowl. When everyone arrives, we’ll grab a handful and take them with the beer.” Jared pulled a wad of pills from his pocket.
“We drink, dance, and wait. For some nothing much happens. Dud pills. Others get a rush, feel euphoric. Either way, we forget our problems and have fun.” He released his pills to fall into a large plastic bowl where there were a lot of drugs in various colors and sizes.
Kelly uncurled her hand, and the ones she brought tumbled on top of the others, then she took a swig of beer, suppressing her gag reflex.
Jared tapped his can against hers and then lifted his drink, downing probably half of it. “C’mon. We need to catch up with everyone. We’ll be floating in no time. Not a care in the world, especially the English test you have on Monday.”
While she tilted the can to her lips, he slung his arm over her shoulder and cradled her against him. His sweet action reinforced why she was here in the first place.
Jared loves me and won’t let anything bad happen to me.
* * *
Her throat parched, Kelly swayed in the middle of the lit area with several teens slumped on the concrete floor. The light and dark swirled before her. She searched for Jared and found him where he’d been before she’d gone to see if there was something to drink. The coolers had been empty. To ease her dryness, she’d considered cupping her hands into the melted ice, but she didn’t.
Kalvin Majors stumbled and fell into a stand with a light. It crashed to the floor and shattered. He continued wandering around in a circle, shouting every once in a while, “Go Eagles.”
Kelly returned to the darker area because the room didn’t seem to spin as much. She plopped down and crumpled back against a post. Jared lay not far away, and no matter how much she’d tried earlier to get him up, she couldn’t. He’d just batted at her as if she were an annoying fly pestering him.
Another girl, Zoe, was stretched out on the floor moaning, while Luke, who was in several of her classes, vomited. The stench assailed her nostrils, and she almost hurled. She cupped her hand over her mouth and closed her eyes.
This isn’t fun. I want to go home.
She crawled toward Jared, afraid to try standing. When she reached him, she shook his shoulder hard. Nothing. At least before, he would mumble or groan, but this time he didn’t do anything. Cradling his face between her hands, she intended to yell at him until he woke up.
His skin felt cold, but it was hot in here. How could he be so cold? Her mind fumbled around trying to grasp onto something she should realize. Did she stick her hands into the ice water after all?
“Jared! Wake up!”
Someone—Brendan maybe—said, “Pipe down.”
She didn’t care. Increasing her volume, she shouted his name over and over.
Kelly lifted his arm to pull him up and get him outside into the fresh air. His limp arm was dead weight, making it hard to budge him at all. Finally, the effort zapped all her energy, her world spinning faster than before. She collapsed on top of Jared. A black veil descended . . .
Someone jostled Kelly, pushing her off her comfortable pillow. She blinked, a harsh light glaring in her eyes.
“He’s dead,” a frantic female voice shrieked, piercing through Kelly’s dazed mind.
Dead? Kelly struggled to focus on the two blurs standing over another blur.
“We’ve got to get him out of here. This is my dad’s warehouse.”
“And do what?” the girl screamed.
“Don’t know. Can’t leave him in here.”
Kelly curled up into a ball, the cold concrete against her cheek. She wanted to open her eyes again. To see what was happening but the darkness beckoned. If she slept a little longer, she would be okay.
A scraping sound penetrated the haze in her mind, but she kept moving toward the black.
She jerked, then folded in on herself even more. Now running toward the dark void where she could escape . . .
Kelly rolled unto her back, the cold hardness beneath her demanding she wake up. She tried forcing her eyelids up but only managed to open them a slit. Through her narrow vision a face loomed close. The darkness surrounding her made it hard to see who it was. Blue eyes? Jared?
But no matter how much she tried, she couldn’t keep her eyes from shutting again. Her mind in a fog, she allowed it to swallow her up.