About the Author
Elizabeth Miles lives in Portland, Maine, and writes for an alternative newsweekly. Visit her online at ElizabethMilesBooks.com, at Facebook.com/ElizabethMilesWrites, and follow her on Twitter at @MilesBooks.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Eternity CHAPTER ONE
It happened so quickly. The socket sent out a small shower of sparks. JD jerked his hand away but not fast enough; pain surged in his fingers, and he could feel heat-induced goose bumps ripple down his arm. Damn it. He blew on his fingers, shaking them in front of his chest. That’s gonna leave a mark.
JD stared down into the space between the hood and the headlight, noting the way he’d have to twist his hand in order to place the new bulb exactly right—without burning off his fingerprints, ideally. These lights were delicate; you didn’t want to handle them too much before they went into their sockets, otherwise they’d flame out in a matter of days. It was hard for him to be careful lately—he felt like he would squeeze and crack anything he touched.
This morning was especially bad. He’d been leaning over the old Mustang for an hour, fiddling under the hood with this knob and that piece of wire . . . but in reality he’d just been enjoying the metallic silence. His arms were bare against the damp spring morning and his jeans were covered in black smears of oil and dirt. He’d have to go inside and change soon; he knew that. You couldn’t show up to a funeral covered in grease. But he was putting it off as long as he could.
“JD? JD, honey, don’t you think it’s time to come in?” His mother’s voice—gentle, tentative—floated out to the driveway. He looked down and realized that he’d had a death-grip on the screwdriver for who knows how long. He threw it forcefully into the metal toolbox, where it landed with a clang. As he flexed and unflexed his hand, he headed toward the house. Apparently he couldn’t put it off any longer.
For the first time maybe ever, JD regretted his clothes: too many colors, too many patterns. Not one nice button-down, not one tie that didn’t feature sunglasses or turtles or something funny. Did he really own nothing he could wear to Drea Feiffer’s memorial service?
He’d have to swipe something from his dad’s closet. His dad was a lot bigger, and JD would look like a kid playing dress-up, but he already felt like he was playing dress-up—trying on someone else’s life, maybe. At least sometimes he wished he was. At any second he expected he might wake up and find that the past week, since Spring Fling and the fire that had consumed Ascension High School’s gym and Drea’s death, had just been some awful hallucination.
One week. One week of floating, bad dreams, and sickening guilt. A week since he’d rescued Em from the smoke and flames—and in doing so, left Drea behind. A shudder of guilt ran along his spine. He flung open his dad’s closet door and tried to focus on the silk ties, all variations of blacks, blues, browns, and grays.
School was closed for two days after the accident; even when it reopened, Em did not return. She’s going to take the week and see how she feels, JD heard Em’s mom, Susan Winters, say to his parents one night. Theories ran rampant at school: Em’s lungs were permanently scarred due to smoke inhalation. She was horribly burned in the fire, doomed to be disfigured forever. The doctors had cut off all of Em’s long, beautiful dark hair in order to address the blisters on her scalp and neck.
JD knew none of that was true. Em’s trauma was mental—she’d been struck by the deaths, in quick succession, of Sasha Bowlder and Chase Singer late last year. And now . . . Drea and Em had only recently become close, but JD sensed that both girls had bonded quickly—that Drea had become really important to Em. Which, frankly, surprised JD. Just this past Christmas, Em was still cracking jokes about Drea’s uniform when they went to the movies.
But something had obviously changed in Em since then. Something had changed in Ascension.
He hadn’t spoken with Em in a week. He’d seen her only once, just out of his periphery: the wisp of a figure flitting past the window in her room, which directly faced his. She’d looked like a ghost; he might not have even noticed if it wasn’t for her long brown hair. But he knew he’d probably see her at the church today, honoring their friend Drea: Drea of the half-shaved head and black nail polish and clove cigarette smell and dripping sarcasm.
His throat tightened up. Jesus. He was going to miss her.
He needed to talk to Em today, and know that she was okay. He couldn’t bear to lose her, too.
JD selected a navy-blue tie to go with the gray suit he’d unearthed from the back of his dad’s closet. It was vintage—pinstripe—but not over the top. Fumbling with the knot as he faced his parents’ mirror, JD gave himself a once-over. He hardly recognized himself in his father’s clothing. It might have been a stranger in the mirror: hair slicked back, fifties-style glasses, polished black shoes. Like one of those ad guys on Mad Men. JD wondered momentarily whether Em watched that show—whether she’d think he looked okay in a suit—and then hated himself for being so shallow.
He took a deep breath, then headed downstairs—going as slowly as possible, as if he could delay the inevitable.
“Poor Walt,” JD’s mom said as they piled into the family station wagon. “First his wife . . . now Drea . . . ”
“He’s going to fall apart,” his dad said matter-of-factly as usual. “He’s barely been holding it together these past few years.” Mr. Fount and Mr. Feiffer knew each other from work—JD’s dad bought fish for his restaurant from Walt Feiffer’s seafood warehouse down on the waterfront in Portland. Over the years, Mr. Fount had made little comments here and there, about how Drea’s dad smelled like booze early in the morning, or how he once saw him crying over a bucket of clams.
“It’s a terrible coincidence. . . . ” His mom trailed off, fiddling with her seat belt.
“What is?” Melissa piped up from the backseat.
“Well, it’s just that . . . he caused an accident a few years ago. It was a fire—and Drea was almost hurt. He was drinking then, too. But now . . . ”
“Let’s just leave it at that, Mom,” JD said.
In the backseat on the way to the memorial service, he watched the thawing landscape whirring past the car window. Everything is changing.
Truth was, any one of them could have died in the gym. It could have been his funeral today, and the only thing he’d have to show for his barely seventeen years on Earth would be a pile of stellar report cards, a few credits in school-play programs for lighting gigs, and years of romantic regrets. Well, just one regret, really.
Em. He’d known her his whole life and yet, weirdly, he seemed to understand her less and less. He was sure that he’d seen her making out with another guy that night at the Behemoth, the night of the bonfire, the night he heard her laughing at him. And not just any guy. This guy, Crow, was up for Asshole of the Year.
Em had gone from one jerk (Zach) to another (Crow), and just when JD had started to believe he might have a chance. It was infuriating and humiliating, and yet . . .
He had to get past all that, somehow. Because there was simply no way around it: JD loved Em. Always had. Always.
No matter what happened.
They’d grown up next door to each other; their parents had been close since their college days in Orono. From vacationing to carpooling to potlucking, the families did everything together, and JD and Emily had been inseparable as children. But not like brother and sister.
Maybe that was because he already had a sister.
He glanced over at thirteen-year-old Melissa, who sat next to him in the backseat, texting. Her face bore that signature expression of preternatural, blissed-out focus, the look that meant she was probably going to still be texting—or chatting or IMing or whatever—for the rest of the night. His younger sister had, without question, gotten 100 percent of the Fount sociability genes.
Mel didn’t even know Drea, not really, except for running into her the few times she’d come over to study. But JD had insisted that his whole family come to the funeral, and his parents agreed this was best. They had a way of sensing when someone needed them, and they’d always seemed to have that sense around Drea, probably because they felt bad for her—they knew her mother had died ages ago and her father was pretty much mentally MIA. The times Drea had been at the Fount household, his parents had gone out of their way to make her comfortable.
Or maybe that was because they’d assumed she and JD were dating.
Either way, here they all were, coming to the funeral, sharing in the agonizing discomfort of it. And JD was grateful for that.
He knew he was lucky to have them.
Still, the only person he really wanted to see right now was Em.
Em was family, and yet not family. More like a partner in crime. The cream-cheese frosting to his carrot cake. Without her, his life would have been blander, less sweet. As kids, she’d always been the one to get them into trouble, and he to get them out. She’d challenge him to race out to the half-rotten raft all the way in the middle of Galvin Pond; he’d remind her when it was time to return to shore, and carry her, piggyback, when she got tired of walking home. She’d convince him that pranking the babysitter by hiding her cell phone in the middle of a Jell-O mold was funny; he’d talk them out of a grounding when their parents came home. Without Em, JD would have been just another geeky tall kid who did really well at science fairs. With her, he felt brighter. Happier. Less like a loser.
With Em, he was like a knight in shining . . . vintage polyester.
Somewhere deep inside him, JD could admit that his bizarre self-confidence had its roots in his friendship with Em. In middle school, when popularity started to matter, Em and the impossibly cheerful Gabby Dove had effortlessly assumed spots at the top of the hierarchy. While his shyness and complete lack of interest in competitive sports did JD no favors among the guys, Em never blew him off. She still wanted to come over for movie marathons; she still giggled when he made up fake fortunes for their fortune cookies. And he had his own friends—Ned, whom he’d known since Boy Scouts, and Keith, another member of the Young Engineers Club. Recently, he’d hung out a bit with this guy Aaron who was in Ascension’s vocational program, studying to be a car mechanic. Aaron had given him some great pointers on his mission to fix up the Mustang. And Drea, of course, whom he had bonded with over history trivia and an appreciation of cop dramas on TV.
At some point, JD had realized that there were no “requirements” he had to fulfill in order to keep Em in his life. She didn’t judge him or expect him to measure up to some standard. And because of that he had started to . . . be himself. He liked old clothes—old stuff in general, actually, vintage watches and junky record players and shit that never got sold anymore. So he wore vintage T-shirts. He liked lights, especially theatrical lighting, so he signed up to design the lights for school plays. He did his thing, and Em did hers, and they always came together to check into each other’s worlds.
But that girl was lost to him now . . . had been since winter break.
“What did you do to your hand?” Melissa’s voice broke him out of his reverie, and he looked down at the red blisters that were blooming on his left hand.
“Just a little burn,” he said as he tugged down his sleeve. “You might want to disengage from that thing before we go inside,” he added, glancing at her phone as they pulled into the church parking lot. She rolled her eyes, but placed her cell on the seat between them.
The lot was, surprisingly, full of cars. JD felt a flicker of anger. Hardly anyone had been nice to Drea when she was alive. She was a weirdo, at least by typical high school standards. Did Ascensionites think they’d get extra credit if they showed up for the memorial service? He hated how people only cared after the fact. It was like that after Sasha Bowlder committed suicide, too.
Or maybe it was the guilt. The kids in his school had laughed at Drea and Sasha when they were alive. They’d accused them of being witches and performing midnight rites in the Haunted Woods; they’d whispered about them getting naked and painting themselves with blood. Maybe all the recent shock was forcing his classmates to get their heads out of their own asses.
“There’s that girl who had that terrible accident a few weeks ago,” his mom whispered to his dad, who nodded with solemn recognition. It was Skylar McVoy, who was limping into the building—wearing an oversize black dress that made her look tiny and frail. She was on the arm of an older woman. JD shuddered. He’d barely known Skylar before the Gazebo’s glass ceiling had collapsed on her; now that section of the cafeteria had been cordoned off and she was a minor celebrity, having escaped with horrible, but not life-threatening, injuries.
His family filed into the church and sat in a pew toward the back, with JD scooting the farthest into the row and Mel immediately following. He shoved his hands deep into his pockets, trying desperately not to stare at the open casket at the front of the room. Melissa nudged him with her elbow and cocked her head, giving him a look that asked without actually asking: Are you okay? He gave her a thumbs-up and did his best to approximate a smile.
But he was definitely not okay.
Dust motes revolved lazily in the light streaming through the stained-glass windows. It was warm in the church, too bright. The smell of musky incense mixed with sympathy bouquets was unfamiliar—his family never went to church. He couldn’t get comfortable; the bench was too hard and he felt like he was overheating. In the process of wrestling off his coat, he nearly elbowed the girl on the other side of him in the face. “Sorry,” he whispered.
She was small, with wavy, honey-blond hair and an elfin face. She was wearing all black, except for a bright red ribbon tied tightly around her neck. He’d never seen her before—maybe she was part of Drea’s “non-Ascension” crowd. Drea had hung around at punk clubs and attended dub-step shows religiously—she’d made friends from all over.
“That’s okay,” she said. She didn’t look like one of Drea’s music friends, though. She looked like a plastic model of a person, almost too perfect. Her face seemed oddly frozen into an expression of neutrality, like one of the dolls Mel used to play with. “I’m Meg.”
“JD,” JD muttered absently. He wasn’t in the mood to make small talk. Wrong place, wrong time. He scanned the room, looking for Em. His heart skipped. There. Em and her parents were sitting close to the front with Gabby and the Doves. Her head was down and he could see her shoulders moving ever so slightly. She looked broken. Beautiful, but broken.
Everything is changing, JD thought again. Life was short and he couldn’t waste any more time. He had to forgive Em, and then tell her how he felt: that he loved her. He had realized he loved her years ago, and remembered the moment e...
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