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For once I did something Laura asked me to do-I went to see Kim Reiss.
"Do you think I'm crazy?" I sit in her yellow room, and the words spill out of my mouth. "Or is this normal?"
I'm still driving out to Foxton on a daily basis and still the place is empty. I'm searching for ghosts. We're almost through March. The snow is melting.
"Tell me how you feel," Kim suggests. She's reading my face, picking up my body language.
"Broken." That's the best word I can come up with, here in this calm space. I won't cry. The second I think this, I have to reach for the Kleenex. How come I have so little control over my tear ducts?
"Explain broken to me."
"Not working. Minus my hard drive."
Kim studies me. "Are you eating? Are you sleeping?"
"That's a no. Are you going to school?"
Ellerton High, where there are four empty desks, one each for Jonas, Arizona, Summer, and Phoenix. And everyone acts like those kids never died. "Yeah."
"I take that as another no. Which parts are not working, Darina?"
"My head. I don't see things. I don't listen. I forget everything. That can't be normal, can it?"
"Here." I strike my chest. Come on, heart, wake up. Remember to beat. "I don't feel anything. I don't know how to act."
She hands me another tissue. "Is there one thing in particular that preys on your mind?"
Phoenix, where are you? When will you come back and haunt me? I don't care if you're real or if I imagined the whole thing. Just don't leave me here alone!
I switched subjects. "It's almost a year since Summer died," I tell Kim.
"Summer Madison-one of the four teenage victims. Was she something special to you?"
"To me. To everyone who knew her. I can't explain."
"I read in the newspaper that she was a musician."
"She played guitar. But it was her voice. You never heard anything like that voice."
"They say she was ready to sign a record deal." I nod. "It's weird-you can go on YouTube and listen to her sing, as if she's still here."
"But she'll never walk into a room and say hi again. Is that it?"
I'm staring at the small, neat scar on Kim's left cheek. I don't want to go where she's just taken me. I'm wondering,
How come the scar?
She sits alert in her soft cream seat.
"Did I tell you I was there?" I ask.
"In the mall, the day Summer died. I was drinking coffee in Starbucks. She was coming out of the music store. She saw me and waved, started to walk toward me. Then the gunman opened fire."
She never made it.
Summer Madison-everyone knows her name. She has a million hits on YouTube. There's a video of her onstage at a festival when she was fifteen years old.
"Hey, Darina," she would have said if she'd reached Starbucks. "I just printed out some sheet music for a new song. Do you want to come over to my place and hear it?" We would've driven out of town to Westra to her house stuffed with guitars and keyboards, her mother's artwork spilling out of the studio-the smell of wet oil paint, her dad cooking up a storm for their evening meal-the aroma of onions, tomatoes, and basil. She would've sat me downon the terrace overlooking the mountains and picked up her guitar. She would've sung like an angel.
But no. Instead, Psycho Man showed up and sprayed the mall with bullets. I watched Summer go down mid-stride at the foot of the escalator and waited where I was until the shooting stopped. Maybe thirty seconds. When I got to her she was lying faceup, and blood was oozing over the white marble floor.
"Darina, I'm leaving for work." Laura appeared at my door and winced when she saw I was logged on to Summer's angel-voice website. Hannah Stoltmann-plus Parker Simons and Ezra Powell, a couple of techies from Ellerton High-set it up soon after Summer was killed, in her memory and with Summer's parents' blessing. Kids use it to review Summer's tracks. These songs are five star! So sad she died-I couldn't stop from crying!
"I said I have to go now." Laura wanted me to be out there meeting my friends, getting over it, normal and gray.
"Will you be OK?"
"Yeah, I'm cool."
"Jim has the day at home to catch up on desk work. Ask him if you need anything."
"OK, cool." Why in a million years would I do that?
"Will you go to school?"
"Good. How did the session with Kim Reiss go?"
"Good." Did I mention my back was turned? Tap-tap-tap.
I faked interest in my keyboard.
"And will you go again?"
"Next Friday, April 1." April Fools' Day.
Laura nodded and left. Five minutes later I was in my car, heading for Foxton Ridge.
There was snow on the ground and flakes falling gently from a dull, gray sky. I parked by the stand of aspens and stood near the iron water tower staring down at the big empty barn and the ranch house dwarfed beside it. Snow turns things new and bright-except for the fact that there were no footprints or tire marks in the yard, you would've sworn the place was inhabited. Do the Beautiful Dead have footprints? I wondered. They don't have heartbeats or blood running through their veins, so it was a reasonable question. I looked up at the sky and felt cold flakes settle on my face then melt.
I would walk down the hill; I would pull open the barn door and look inside. The door would creak. A creature-maybe a mouse or a squirrel-would scuttle up the wooden stairs into the hayloft.
This had happened many times. I was always moving clumsily, weighed down by despair. Phoenix isn't here. Phoenix isn't here. Hammer blows, doom and gloom. My feet crunched in the snow. I passed the razor-wire fence, mended last year by Jonas and Hunter, and slowly approached the rusted truck parked in the yard. It was old and broken down. It would never move again. Catching sight of my reflection in the windshield, I glanced quickly away.
Whose was that skinny, ghostly image wearing mascara and cropped, dark hair, its face pinched with cold? Not mine. I didn't recognize the scowling, downturned mouth, the dead eyes. I looked again. Hey, Darina, that is totally you! Turning my back, I made for the barn door with its crazy pattern of hammered nails, its zigzag of support planks, the gray, weathered boards. Looking up, I saw the dead moose head staring down at me with giant antlers and glass eyes.
Creak! The opening door scared the crap out of me.
Come on, Phoenix, where are you? There in a corner beside the rakes and shovels, reaching up to tear down a century of cobwebs and stepping forward? Standing on the wooden steps to the loft in a narrow ray of light, flecks of dust doing a dizzy dance around your head? Smile down at me for Christ's sake. Reach out to me and take me by the hand.
It was weird, but I kind of liked Kim's room. The aspen trees outside the window were pale and bare, but inside there were cozy chairs and a coffee table, a warm rug and a calm, scarred face waiting for me to begin.
"Thirty seconds," Kim said. "Between the shot that hit Summer and you reaching her."
"A lifetime," I told her. I liked the way my therapist styled her fair hair-shorter than usual, showing her small ears and dangling blue earrings, kind of ethnic but classier- moonstones maybe. "I shouldn't have waited, should've been there sooner."
"And risked getting shot?"
"Yeah." They said Summer died instantly, so logically it wouldn't have made any difference. Her eyes were open, but she wasn't seeing anything. I leaned over and spoke to her. "I told her I was sorry." Did I get through?
They say that hearing is the last sense to depart. Kim waited to see if I needed to lean forward and grab a tissue.
"No way were we alike," I explained. "Summer has this long, blond hair way past her shoulders. She's real delicate."
"But you two clicked?"