All That Was: A Novel

All That Was: A Novel

by Karen Rivers


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Two best friends. The boy who loves them both. What happens when there is only one girl left?

Piper and Sloane are best friends. They grew up together, dress alike, and never do anything without each other. To Sloane, Piper has always been extraordinary: fierce and pretty and powerful. The only thing that makes Sloane special is that Piper chose her for a sisterhood that was supposed to last forever. That is, until Piper caught Sloane kissing Piper’s boyfriend, Soup—and the next day, Piper is found dead, washed ashore on a beach.

As Sloane and Soup relive their deep, sometimes painful histories with Piper and face a future without her, they are racked by questions: Who is to blame for Piper’s death? How do you make amends for hurting someone you love if that person is no longer around? And how can you ever move on and love again? Told from alternating perspectives in Karen Rivers's signature lyrical prose, All That Was is a story about the complexity of friendships, forgiveness, and growing up.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374302467
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 01/16/2018
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.40(d)
Age Range: 12 - 18 Years

About the Author

Karen Rivers is the author of many books for children and teens, including Before We Go Extinct, The Girl in the Well Is Me, and Love, Ish. She lives in Victoria, B.C., with her children.

Read an Excerpt




When my phone rings for the first time since I last saw Piper, I ignore it.

The ice in my glass melts into my Diet Coke, turning it watery and thin. I take a gulp that hurts the whole way down, a stone that I've swallowed whole. I hold my breath. It stops hurting all at once, like a light going out.

Piper's mad and I'm not ready to talk to her. I don't know what I'll say.

"You're her spirit animal," Piper's mom once told me. I wanted to tell her that "spirit animal" is actually offensive the way she's using it. I also wanted to say that Piper's inner animal isn't a person, anyway. It's something furious and powerful, already extinct, so rare it couldn't even exist anymore — a clouded leopard or a Caspian tiger — beautiful and strange and pretty much impossible to understand.

I'm none of those things.

There are thousands of girls like me. Millions. I'm as common as a house cat.

The only thing that makes me different from every other girl is that Piper chose me. We've been friends for so long that we've started to look the same. We sound the same. We definitely, on purpose, dress the same. It messes with people, to see us together. I don't really know why, but it makes us powerful — twice as pretty, twice as special. But there's no guidebook for what to do when suddenly, you don't feel like being two.

You want to be one.

I want to be one.

Me. Without Piper.

Me, with Soup.

We said a boy would never come between us, but we were so wrong.

I kissed Soup.

Soup kissed me.

But what if it was a mistake? Maybe Soup just got us mixed up. He was pretty drunk and the lighting was bad and I was drunk, too, and no one said no. So it was my fault. He has an excuse, but I sure don't.

Me, alone, is terrifying, and Soup is Piper's boyfriend.

I take another sip of my watery drink and the blue sky sinks down around me and the sun burns my eyes and my head aches from a hangover I totally deserve and I stare at my phone and my skin beads with sweat and the day gets hotter and longer and worse.

Last night feels more real now that it isn't happening than it felt when it was happening. At the time, it felt like a dream. The house was tilting around me, all corridors and half-built rooms and echoing sounds of emptiness, and I was dizzy, spinning. Then the music that felt like it was inside me. Drinking and more drinking, the cough- syrup sweetness of the mix. Then there we were, me and Soup, dancing, slower than the beat, but also just right. The filth on the unfinished floor rose up around us, stomped into clouds, both of us shiny with sweat and grayed from the dust. And then there was his face and my face and I can't explain it, I definitely can't explain why I did it. I couldn't help it. It just ... happened.

That's never happened to me before. I've kissed boys, but it's never felt like that kiss, like a force bigger than me, pulling my lips to his lips and taking over every part of me. I couldn't have stopped it if I'd tried.

But I didn't try.

I have to talk to Piper, but I can't because it's impossible to tell her the truth and I haven't thought of the lie yet. I can't be in love with Soup. And I won't be. Love is a decision, that's what Piper always said, before she changed her idea about that. But maybe she was right all along. If so, I'm deciding now. Love is chemicals: dopamine and serotonin, flooding your brain, making you more or less yourself. You should be able to take a pill to stop it, to lock into your neurotransmitters, blunt the signal.

There should be a cure.

But anyway, it's over, whatever "it" was.

The thing with Soup and me.

I shiver hard, but I'm not cold. Not even a little. If anything, it feels like I'm cooking. The backs of my legs stick to the paint on the sun- hot wooden Adirondack chair. I can feel my skin everywhere tightening from the heat, like a sweater shrinking in the dryer, the sun robbing it of everything.

"I'm sorry," I practice. "Please, Piper. Pipes, come on. I was drunk, so it didn't count. Maybe the alcohol and my meds ... maybe that was ... I mean ..."

I lick my lips. They taste like a lie I'm telling myself, salty and wrong.

I don't always like Piper but I need Piper. Piper is part of me. Not being friends with Piper isn't an option.

I'd die.

But kissing Soup wasn't like kissing anyone else. It was something different. It was everything different.

It was everything I wanted all along.

* * *

I should go inside the house, where there is air-conditioning and Netflix, fresh ice and Diet Coke, but I can't seem to do anything but sit here and try not to think about Soup. I have a plan for my life and there's no room in it for a boyfriend right now.

I'm going to travel after senior year.

I'm going to go to film school in New York the year after that.

I'm going to be important. I'm going to really change things with my films. I know it.

I'll look back on this and I'll realize it didn't matter. I'll know that we made a big deal over nothing. Over a boy. We agreed a long time ago, boys don't matter.

There is so much stuff that matters. Real things.

Things like how flocks of birds are mysteriously falling dead from the sky, raining down on towns and farms in feathery hailstorms.

Things like how herds of antelope are lying down all at once, dead, on the grassy plains of Africa.

Things like how thousands and thousands of fish died at the same time in one lake in China.

Things like how polar bears are drowning because the ice is melting out from underneath them, leaving them wobbling on shrinking islands, and then swimming for their lives.

Everything is dying.

I hope you die, for real, Piper said. Monster. I could feel her spit hitting my cheek; I knew how much she meant it. Piper has hated plenty of people, but it's never been me. Not before last night. I didn't know how to answer. She was close enough to kiss and then she wasn't. Her eyes were tiny, angry slits when she spun away and vanished into the wall of music.

I don't know how she could see where she was going.

I hope she didn't fall.

I hate myself, but it wasn't all my fault. Soup should have let go first.

But even while Piper was yelling, we were swaying without meaning to, without wanting to; our bodies were touching in a way that felt like we weren't in control of them, our hands entangled, reaching for each other, her face collapsing.

Why does it matter so much?

It was only a kiss.

Whales are washing up dead on beaches everywhere, their corpses rotten and bloated. Sometimes they explode. It still doesn't seem like anyone cares.

If the elephants start dropping dead, maybe then the world will notice. Everyone likes elephants, right? Elephant zombies would really be something, their decomposing flesh dropping off in leathery sheets. They wouldn't be ignored.

I'll call my first real documentary film The Zombie Apocalypse: The Future of Us. It will make people notice. It will make them stop what they're doing and pay attention to what they've done to the Earth. What's more important than that?

Definitely not Soup Sanchez.

I flick through some photos and videos on my phone of me and Piper that I took over the summer. The selfies are always from the same angle, my arm reaching up with the camera, our heads together. Sometimes Soup is in the photos, sometimes he isn't. I've mostly avoided tagging along when they're together. It's hard to be the third wheel; it's hard to see her draped over his shoulders, her lips next to his ear.

I find a photo with him in it and I study his features, zoom in tight. He's an ordinary guy. Objectively, a little better-looking than normal. A little. But his nose is too pointy. His eyes are too close together. His cheeks are always dark with a beard that wants to grow in, making him look older than he is. My stomach clenches. I zoom back out again. In the photo, Piper is smiling so wide, it's like her face is splitting open.

I am a terrible friend.

I slide the screen off. Last night is already taking on a blurry quality, like an Instagram filter has been laid over the kiss, a vignette shadowing the outline.

"It wasn't real," I tell myself.

What's real is what is here right now: there is the green of the trees and the grass and the garden and the gardener and his music and the smell of fertilizer mixed with my sunscreen and the alcohol that's still oozing out of my pores. There is the beach just beyond that and the ocean with its dark depths and the swaying kelp and the smell of something rotten pushing through the smoke smell: sewage and decay. Farther out than that, a shadow in the distance, there is the island, glowing in the sunlight. There is the optimistic pink of my bikini, the way my skin has melted off and stuck me here, and I can't move and I can't do anything and I'm paralyzed with not knowing how to fix this thing that has to be fixed.

What's real is the future. My future and Piper's future and our plans. Next year, Europe. The year after, New York. That's when our real lives will start.

"I'm sorry," I say again.

"I hate you," she says, as clear as anything I've ever heard.

"Piper?" I say, swiveling around.

But no one is there, just a crow, so black it is almost blue, its head cocked, like "What is your problem, girl?"

"Sorry," I say. It disappears in a frantic flurry of flying. "Sorry!" I call again.

I don't cry a lot but I'm crying now. I don't think this can be fixed. I don't think she'll forgive me. And without Piper, what if I'm nobody?

Without Piper, I might not even exist.

* * *

The first thing I ever said to Piper was "Sorry."

The preschool was in a small red house with white trim that looked like a dollhouse. There were five steps leading to the front door, which had a huge door knocker shaped like a lion's head. It looked scary. My blood was rushing through my body too fast; my three- year-old heart was racing. I'd never been separated from my dad before. Mom always worked, but Dad stayed home with me right up until the day I started preschool. Everything was changing.

I've never been good at change.

My mom lifted the lion and knocked, and the sound of it hurt my ears. It felt like my brain was vibrating. She pushed the door open. I missed my dad so bad. I wanted to run down the street toward our house. I wanted to find him. To simply push back through the door and out onto the street and to get away, anywhere, anywhere, anywhere but here.

Then I saw Piper.

Her hair hung loose in shampoo-commercial waves. (Even then, I was easily seduced by good hair.) She was wearing head-to-toe purple, which to me, at three, made her look like someone from a movie. Her feet were slightly apart; she was taking up more room in the space than she actually took. It was like she was commanding the air around her.

In contrast, I felt dirty. Sticky. Small. My mouth was still sour from the chocolate milk my mom had let me drink in the car. I almost definitely had a milk mustache. My mom said goodbye and my knees went soft, like they did near the edges of high things or when something came on the TV screen that made Dad yell, "Look away!"

A boy came running up to me, disheveled and spitty. "You stink," he declared. He pushed me, hard, and I landed heavily beside Piper, elbow first, the pain rattling through my bone. She was lying down on the floor in a pool of rectangular sunlight, framed by the lines in the windows. The sun lit up the dust motes in a way that reminded me of home and I missed my mom and dad so intensely and my arm hurt so bad and I started to cry. I wanted to be anywhere but there.

I struggled off her and she grinned. Then she purred. I could see her invisible tail, her cat whiskers.

"Sorry," I mumbled, rubbing hard at my tears. I was scared of this magic half cat, half girl. Who wouldn't be?

"It's okay," she said. "I'm fine. Boys are dumb." Then, "Meow." Her teeth were tiny perfect squares.

"Meow," I said, deciding. I could have run away, but instead, I sat up and leaned toward her. I licked my own paw.

It was me and Piper against the world. Together.

* * *

There are a lot of ways to say "I'm sorry." I google the translations on my phone and start memorizing them. Memorizing stuff makes me feel like a better version of myself.

My mouth moves as I say out loud, crystal clear: "Prosti menya." Then, "Call me, Piper. Do it. Now."

The phone doesn't ring.

The wind pushes at the water in the bay in front of me, and white foam starts to break on the curved shore. The wind is hot. It's still so hot.

This summer, there has been a heat wave. It's September, but the sun seems unstoppable. Maybe it will stay hot forever. Maybe nothing will ever change. The heat shimmers over everything, blurring today with yesterday last week last month and forever. I lift my camera and point it at the sea, looking for whales. No fins break the surface.

I put the camera down.

I look at it.

I spin it on the table.

I think about everything it contains.

* * *

Things happen, or have already happened.

Sometimes I can't tell if something is a dream or real, if something happened or didn't.


A boy and girl set up their blanket on the beach in front of the house where the ground is layered with rocks the size of fists. It doesn't welcome sitters. It's lumpy and small and there's a rip current in the bay that makes it pretty dangerous for swimming. There are a lot of nicer beaches here. The best one is Smythes, with its silky-soft sand. Or Bay Beach, with its concession stand and lifeguards and music. This is a hard beach, alternating sand with surprisingly jagged rocks, rendering it unfriendly and usually empty.

There are also mosquitoes. The smell of decaying seaweed. The threat of raw sewage pushed in by the tide. The rope-and-driftwood swing hanging crookedly from a low branch on a leaning tree.

The blanket is one of those furry wolf blankets that probably smells musty and unwashed. The blanket looks familiar. Something about it makes me shiver, makes me want to climb out of myself and disappear. The girl has long, waist-length blond hair. Pretty hair. The boy has black hair. The girl is in a bright bikini. The boy is in trunks that look French. They are both thin and narrow-hipped, like models in an ad for Abercrombie & Fitch. The girl is barely sitting down before the boy starts to kiss her. It's hard to tell from here if she's enjoying it. His tongue is as fat and gross as a sea cucumber launching itself into her mouth even as his hand grabs for her bikini bottom.

The girl pulls away and gets up from the blanket. It looks like she might come toward the house. I hope she does. I want her to. Go, I want to say. Do it. But instead, she runs into the sea, hopping on the rocks like they are hot potatoes, which they sort of are: some slippery, some even sharper than others because they are encrusted with barnacles. She is looking around, almost as if she is looking for help. There is something shimmery about the scene.

Something surreal. It is a mirage or a hallucination or both.

"This isn't really happening," I say out loud to myself, and I'm alone on the deck and no one is on the beach.

Am I going crazy?


The girl is so familiar.

It's like looking in a mirror.

Is it me?

She spins around and she's laughing in that fake come-and-get- me way that some girls do. It looks like she's acting, though. Something is off. But she's fine and it's a game and she's in control. I try to exhale.

There are jellyfish — a current from Hawaii that was created by the messed-up weather has brought thousands and thousands of lion's mane jellyfish drifting into the bay and up onto the rocks, their stinging bloodred tentacles splayed out like organ meat in the sun — which she has to step carefully to avoid. The girl hops over the rocks and kicks the water in the sea up in an arc, like a photo, like she's moving in actual slow motion and the water drops are following suit. Someone should be filming this or is or isn't or could be or didn't.

Then she wades out fast, in a half run, half skip.

The water is always so shockingly cold.

The girl splashes awkwardly in a messy front crawl. She probably used to be on the swim team. (I was on the swim team.) She probably took lessons at the pool, earned badges, tried hard. (Like me. Is it me?)

It can't be me.

She bobs in the distance for a few minutes and he shouts something and she laughs and goes under, coming up again like a seal, her hair now looking dark and sleek. The boy gets up and stubs his toe on something. Curses, sits down again. Yells something that the girl seems not to hear.

Then, finally, the girl comes splashing out again, safe, still alive, giggling, her body bright red from the cold water. She laughs and wobbles, hopping awkwardly over the rocky shoreline, not letting on how it was so icy it must have felt like needles piercing her skin, how now she probably can't feel anything at all from the neck down.

Numbness is necessary.

The boy is angry; his body language is clenched.

She laughs, pokes him in the shoulder.


Excerpted from "All That Was"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Karen Rivers.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Part One,
Part Two,
Part Three,
Also by Karen Rivers,
About the Author,

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