Jaycee is about to accomplish what her older brother Jake couldn't: live past graduation.
Jaycee is dealing with her brother's death the only way she canby re-creating Jake's daredevil stunts. The ones that got him killed.
Jaycee doesn't expect to have help on her insane quest of urban exploration to remember Jake. But she's joined by a group of unlikely friendsall with their own reasons for completing the dares and their own brand of dysfunction:
Natalie: the ex-best friend
Bishop: the heartbroken poet
Zach: the slacker with Peter Pan syndrome, and...
Mik: who doesn't speak, but somehow still challenges Jayce to do the unthinkable-reveal the parts of herself that she buried with her brother.
From the petrifying ruins of an insane asylum to the skeletal remains of the world's largest amusement park, You Were Here takes you on an unforgettable journey of friendship, heartbreak, and inevitable change.
"You Were Here is wrenchingly beautiful in its honest and achingly accurate portrayal of grief and how it breaks usand the way unconditional friendship puts us back together."Jo Knowles, award-winning author of See You At Harry's and Read Between the Lines
"The urban explorers of You Were Here dive deep into the forgotten man-made spaces all around themand their own feelings of loss, love, and fear. McCarthy deftly intertwines the characters' stories, filling them with authentic pain and heartache as well as soaring moments of grace and humor. I dare you to read it!" Maggie Lehrman, author of The Cost of All Things
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I had been driving all afternoon, trying to get lost.
The road blurred. My foot was a stone on the gas pedal, and I took the turn too fast. Tires growled and spit gravel, almost sending my car sideways through the Saturday evening traffic.
I came to a slamming stop in the playground parking lot and pressed my head to the steering wheel, cursing. The pause was short-lived. I tightened my ponytail and got out.
Trudging toward the swing set, my face burned and my breath stung in my chest. That's what regret does well and grief does better: rips out your energy and leaves you feeling each and every heartbeat. Plus, well, I'd failed once again. Getting lost in my hometown was turning out to be as easy as disapparatingsomething I'd once wasted an entire lightning bolt–foreheaded summer attempting.
I sat hard on the swing. My endeavors to get lost were getting extreme. Just last week, I'd night-trekked into the woods where the cross-country team practices and chugged three inches of rum. I'd left the path behind, only to run into my equidrunk classmates, taking their idiotic dares to make out with a tree and underwear-roll through a patch of poison ivy. I emerged hours later on the road behind the middle school, the same spot where years earlier I used to pump my bike into dirt-sneezing speed, trying to spin out. In short, my earliest attempts at getting lost.
I itched the length of my arm. The poison ivy welts were starting to fade, even though a few hours earlier, my mom complained about how blotchy I would look in all my graduation pictures. "Photoshop," I had assured her following the ceremony. "I promise you won't have to remember me as rashy every time you marvel at my monumentous achievement in surviving standard education."
Surviving was the wrong word. My mom started to weep, and I ended up taking a three-hour drive on Easy Death Road. Which is exit 13 off Guilt Highway if you're curious. And then after all that, I surrendered to a seizure of loneliness and came here to the oddly placed Richland Avenue Park.
I scuffed my Chucks on the stubbly turf, drawn to the spot beneath the swing set where Jake died. Of course, it wasn't rubber back then. It had been good, old-fashioned, unforgiving blacktop. My mind hummed, and something inside me screamed Run! as if my worst memories were zombies, and if I were quick enough, I could outstrip them. But I stayed where I was, kicking into gear on the swing instead.
The sunset was taking forever to get over itself, and I pumped my legs like a ten-year-old. I could have been at any number of graduation parties, sneaking beer into Sprite cans and cheersing the end of high school. But no, I was here. Killing time. Waiting for dark, when I'd break into The Ridges and meet up with Mikivikious for our bizarro anniversary. It had been five years. That's something special, right? What's the traditional present for five years? Silverware? A couch? Flat screen?
The sun's blaring rays made me squeeze my eyes until the whole universe went orange-red. Killing time. What an expression. How does one kill time? Anesthesia? Time travel? Lobotomy?
The last one made me snicker as I stared up at The Ridges, the decrepit Victorian mansion on top of the hill. Until recently, it had been known as the Athens Insane Asylum, but the state had demanded a rebrand when they shut it down, as if a new name could erase a hundred years of inhumane abuse, death, and yes, copious amounts of lobotomies. I should know; I'd tried it once or twice. Not a lobotomychanging my own name. Anything to escape being the infamous girl who'd had a front-row seat in watching her big brother snap his neck.
I would rather be known for frenching a tree.
My feelings flared as I imagined my mom on her way back to her own asylum, Stanwood Behavioral Hospital. She was most likely weeping for Xanax, a wreck because I wrecked her with my sarcasm. And my father was probably holding her hand and saying nice things, because that's how he dealt with Jake. My dad was a grade A deflector. Everything he said was ripe with the exact same sentiment: So we don't have a son anymore, but hey, look at our daughter! To be honest, I preferred my mother's tears.
I turned to the half-shadowed redbrick towers of The Ridges peeking over the tree line and wondered where I'd left off on my easier thoughts. Oh yeah: lobotomies. The guy who performed them, nicknamed Dr. Lobotomy, traveled from asylum to asylum in the sixties, living out of his lobotomobilehe seriously called it thatwhile banging out twenty procedures a day. Apparently it only takes a few minutes to destroy someone's frontal lobe. True story. Google it.
I kicked harder, faster, higher on the swing, and then turned into a board, locking my elbows and knees. I tracked the blue sky with each swinging pass, waiting for gravity to get predictable. To bring me back to earth.
When it finally did, I was no longer alone. A kid glared from a few feet away with that dog snarl only middle schoolers possess. Behind him, his buddies hung from the monkey bars, faux whispering. Clearly he'd been sent over. Chosen to poke fun at Jaycee Strangelove.
Yes, that's my name. No, you may not make fun of it.
I stared him down. "You're too old to be on the playground. Take off before you freak out the little kids," I said even though I was the only other person there.
The boy's hair was unevenly shaved on the sides, and he'd Sharpied rap lyrics up his ropey arms. "I dare you."
I exhaled for roughly ten years. "Dare me to do what, Eminem?"
He pointed to the top of the swing set, smirking.
"I can do the backflip," he bragged. "So can two of my friends."
I took the bait even though I knew better than to talk about the accident. "Jake could do it too, you snotwad. The flip that killed him was probably his thirtieth."
My thoughts went graphic. I couldn't stop imagining my big brother standing atop the swing set. He wore his cap and gown from graduation and was also half-drunka detail the coroner threw in later. Jake's classmates were cheering him on in a way that made me think he was the coolest human on the planet. I mean, I had only finished seventh grade, so that seemed entirely possible.
I remembered in slo-mo how he crouched and sprang backward. The flip was so fast that it had turned into one and a half flips, and then...
"Is it true that his head snapped off?" the Sharpie kid asked.
"Well? Do the backflip," he said. "I dare you."
I got up and walked away.
"But you're supposed to do any dare," he yelled. "That's what everyone says."
"You've got the wrong Strangelove," I called back. "Jake was the one who did every dare." I only do the ones that aren't suicidal, I added in my thoughts. Mostly. I turned to walk backward and spoke my next words loud enough for him and his little thug friends. "Jake's head didn't snap off. His neck bent ninety degrees." I held my arm up, crooked. "Like an elbow."
Maybe that would keep them from mimicking the flip that broke Jake. But probably not. More likely, it'd make them even more interested. Middle schoolers make no freakin' sense.
I pretended like I was leaving, but I didn't go anywhere. Instead, I hooked around the small wooded area and back to the playground. To the swing set. Lil Eminem and his posse had bugged off, and I felt myself edging too close to the supermassive black hole inside that Jake had left behind.
Five years ago. Five. Five.
I eyed the playground like I might catch a glimpse of his ghost. He would probably be pissed to know that I imagined his spirit in that ridiculous cap and gown. Also barefoot, but then again, he never wore shoes.
I flipped off my bashed-up Converses and climbed the support beam of the swing set without another thought. The cool metal gripped my palms, and I looped my legs around the top bar and hauled myself into a sitting position. Easier than it looks. I wriggled my butt down the pole.
The sunset was lapsing into a cherry-stained twilight. A breeze came in from somewhere and set itself against my radical heartbeat. A few dozen people had watched Jake flip; none of them had tried to stop him, least of all me. And now I was alone. No one was going to stop me either. I'm lost without you, Jake, I thought, followed by, What sentimental crap.
"I'm always right here," I muttered. "How lost is that?"
Crazy and cursing, I stood up.