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Teach Me to Forget
My breath feels like a solid mass as it travels from my lungs into a whisper. “Bye, Jackson Gray.”
I always call him by his first and last name. It makes him sound like a movie star. And he hates when I call him that. A film of tears coats my eyes, making his face blur like I’m staring into a funhouse mirror. Even blurry, his smile is always so perfect and sincere. I wonder if mine will ever look as endearing as his, especially while I’m faking my way through the rest of the day.
He crooks his mouth to the side and gazes at me like I’ve grown horns. “Are you crying? I know leaving me is hard, but . . .” he says, letting the sentence fade out like he always does. He displays a goofy grin, showing white teeth that contrast with his olive-toned skin.
I clench my fists, urging the tears to dry. “It’s the wind.”
He searches around the parking lot as if trying to catch sight of the breeze before narrowing his gaze back to me. “Okay.” He shrugs.
The tree branches stop swaying in the wind, and my hair suddenly lies flat from its previous wild abandon. I push it out of my face. Jackson gives me a confused glance, looks down at his cell, and takes off. “I’m coming over,” he yells halfway to his car.
I chase after him. “What?” I try to mask the tone in my voice so it sounds more normal.
He whips around, his nose still in his phone. “Jaclyn called me and said we needed to talk. I need to know what to do.”
I give him my you’re an idiot expression. “Talk to her?”
He looks up and laughs, rubbing his stomach like he’s hungry, which he usually is. “Okay, okay,” he says as a concerned expression takes over his face. “Hey, are you really all right? You seem a bit . . . .” His voice is laced with worry. Maybe he’s figured out I’m saying goodbye for the last time.
I laugh because that’s what Happy Ellery is supposed to do. “I’m fine, you doof.”
“Look.” He punctuates the word with his hand for emphasis. “I need your advice and I don’t want to talk about it in the parking lot. I know you said you were busy tonight, but, it’ll only be for a sec—”
“No,” I say too quickly, cutting him off.
“Yes,” he says with a smirk on his face, his dark hair blowing in the wind.
“No.” We always do this—go back and forth until the other one caves.
He narrows his eyes and folds his arms across his chest. “Yes.”
I sigh. He’s changing my plans. This is our goodbye, not at my house where memories creep around every corner. “No.”
He smiles at me again. “Yes,” he says, soft and sincere.
He’s not going to fold. I can tell. I groan, and he knows he’s got me.
“See you in a few,” he says, cranking open the door to his rusted, piece-of-shit car.
Just a year ago the world cornered me, but now it’s swallowing me whole, digesting me slowly, like the gum I swallowed at lunch. I look down at my shoes as they make ridges in the soil, one deeper than the other. I spot my Ford SUV in the parking lot, and stand in front of it for a moment to remember all the times I’ve had in it; the time Jackson taught me to drive, the time . . . . Is this what today’s going to be like—me standing in front of my life, breathing in memories and saying goodbye to inanimate objects?
Sliding into the front seat, I wrap my hands around the wheel, squeezing the leather, taking in the last drive I’ll make away from school. It’s Wednesday. I would have picked to kill myself on a Friday, but Mom works the weekends, and I don’t want her to have to worry about cleaning up my dead body on a Friday. A Wednesday is better.
I flip on the radio and listen to my favorite song. It’s full of loud guitar chords and yelling. It’s perfect. I turn it up and roll the window down, letting the cool wind of Grand Creek, Indiana, whip brown strands against my face, slicing into my skin like little hairy knives.
The plan is done. I’ve set some money aside (not enough, but it will help) for the funeral, so my mom won’t have to pay for all of it. I’d been saving for a year to pay for a trip to Paris, but since I won’t ever make it to Paris, I figured this is a good investment. I don’t deserve Paris, anyway. I’ve booked the cleaning crew for tomorrow morning, telling them it’s a surprise for my mom, who always does the cleaning. They even congratulated me on being a good daughter. I had to place that memory in a compartment to keep it from haunting me for the last twenty-four hours. The gun is in my closet. It only has one bullet in its chamber.
A sliver of dread burrows through me, a lost feeling, not unlike the one I had the day I decided this would be my last. It’s been happening ever since. The ebb and flow of the unknown variables in my plan. I’m waiting to feel numb. Jackson will hurt. We’ve been best friends since he climbed my tree and broke his leg in second grade. He’ll get over it. He’ll find another friend. Someone who deserves him more than me.
I make it home and run to my room, passing Mom in the kitchen cooking something that smells like a cross between cabbage and apple pie. I cringe as the odor wafts my way and speed up the stairs before she can pull me aside to eat whatever she’s killed in the kitchen. I never had the heart to tell her I’ve been a vegetarian for the last six months. Now she won’t have to know. She yells something up to me I don’t understand. I slip into my room and frantically gather the items I’d stored away in preparation. I toss clothes and books around the room, hoping it looks more lived in than it did before I packed it all up.
A hollow knock on my door makes me jump. “Honey? Jackson’s here. I’m sending him in. Are you decent?”
“No, I’m naked.”
I hear her tell Jackson I’m indisposed.
“I’m not naked, Mom. It’s fine. He can come in.”
“I knew that,” she says in a playful tone.
The door opens tentatively and Jackson’s tall frame enters the room. He runs a hand through his hair. It’s always been shaggy in that cool way, like he forgot he had it for about ten years. His shoes are dirt-stained, and the laces are always untied. His shirt is wrinkled above his muscled chest, fabric that bears some strange football saying I don’t get. He never changes. I think that’s what I like best about him—his predictability.
“All right, Jackson Gray. What’d you do this time?” I tease. I’m getting so good at faking.
He plops onto my bed and looks around the room, his eyes adjusting to the emptiness. “Are you moving?” His eyebrows crease in confusion and his posture changes to that of someone suspicious. “Where’s the Duran Duran poster I got you?”
I was born in the late nineties, and even though I love some good grunge, I am a child of the eighties. I love everything about that era. Jackson got me the Duran Duran poster for my birthday last year. It’s signed by all the members. Mom thinks it’s hilarious and “so me” that I love bands she loved when she was a kid.
I need to come up with a lie to keep Jackson clueless. I search my brain for a thought. He used to be able to tell when I lie, but I’ve gotten pretty good at it. “I’m going to paint my room,” I say, avoiding his eyes, hoping he buys it.
“Not pink, right?”
I smile. “Not pink.”
“Cool.” Jackson accepts things so simply. He never asks for an explanation. He’s kind of the Goldilocks of people, middle in almost everything. He’s average at football, but doesn’t strive to be better. He’s average at school, but doesn’t care to get past a 2.8 GPA. He’s not the captain of anything.
We have this in common. But that’s where our similarities end.
“You came for a reason, yes?” I ask, grabbing a book and placing it neatly on the empty shelf.
He looks around again and nerves perk in my chest. “Something’s seriously off, like . . .” he says, narrowing his eyes.
Perhaps I underestimated him. “Tell me about Jaclyn. She kissed Jeremy, right? That’s what this is about?”
He purses his lips. “How’d you hear?” he says, flipping a pen he found on the ground between his fingers. “Eh, that relationship is over anyway. Come on, you had to have money on it ending.” He makes a sound in his throat that’s half chuckle, half too-cool-to-laugh. “What’s up with you, anyway?”
My whole body freezes. I’m an iceberg about to crash the Titanic.
He doesn’t wait for me to lie to him again. “You’ve been acting strange for days. What the hell is up with you? You’re not . . .” he says, leading me to confess like he usually does.
You’re not . . . losing it like before. I finish the sentence for him in my head. Happy Ellery isn’t doing her job. Seething anger builds in me and threatens to burst. I can’t have anyone ruin my plans—months of preparation and deceit. I calm, and put on an unaffected face. “Jackson Gray, you and I both know I’m strange. That’s why you love me,” I joke, hoping it convinces him that nothing’s wrong.
“I do love ya.” His tone is deadly serious as his gaze follows me suspiciously around the room.
“Anyway. Since you’re clearly not here to listen to my sage advice on love, I must get with my first love—homework.” I hug my calculus book to my chest and nod toward the door.
He sits up from the bed and stands, placing his hands in his pockets. “Fine. I’m leaving. So should I break up with Jaclyn, then?”
I laugh and nudge him lightly in the leg. “Yes, she kissed another guy.”
He nods slowly, as if really trying to consider the decision. “Yeah, okay. I’ll see you tomorrow?” he asks.
I nod, unable to tell him another lie.