Before I Fall
“You love Cupid Day,” my mom prods. “Are you sure nothing happened? You didn’t fight with your friends?”
“No. Of course not.”
She hesitates. “Did you fight with Rob?”
That makes me want to laugh. I think about the fact that he left me waiting upstairs at Kent’s party and I almost say, Not yet. “No, Mom. God.”
“Don’t use that tone of voice. I’m just trying to help.”
“Yeah, well, you’re not.” I bury deeper under the covers, keeping my back turned to her. I hear rustling and think she’ll come and sit next to me. She doesn’t, though. Freshman year after a big fight I drew a line in red nail polish just inside my door, and I told her if she ever came past the line I’d never speak to her again. Most of the nail polish has chipped off by now, but in places you can still see it spotted over the wood like blood.
I meant it at the time, but I’d expected her to forget after a while. But since that day she’s never once stepped foot in my room. It’s a bummer in some ways, since she never surprises me by making up my sheets anymore, or leaving folded laundry or a new sundress on my bed like she did when I was in middle school. But at least I know she’s not rooting through my drawers while I’m at school, looking for drugs or sex toys or whatever.
“If you want to come out here, I’ll get the thermometer,” she says.
“I don’t think I have a fever.” There’s a chip in the wall in the exact shape of an insect, and I push my thumb against the wall, squishing it.
I can practically feel my mom put her hands on her hips. “Listen, Sam. I know it’s second semester. And I know you think that gives you the right to slack off—”
“Mom, that is not it.” I bury my head under the pillow, feeling like I could scream. “I told you, I don’t feel good.” I’m half afraid she’ll ask me what’s wrong and half hoping she will.
She only says, “All right. I’ll tell Lindsay you’re thinking of going in late. Maybe you’ll feel better after a little more sleep.”
I doubt it. “Maybe,” I say, and a second later I hear the door click shut behind her.
I close my eyes and reach back into those final moments, the last memories—Lindsay’s look of surprise and the trees lit up like teeth in the headlights, the wild roar of the engine—searching for a light, a thread that will connect this moment to that one, a way to sew together the days so that they make sense.
But all I get is blackness.
I can’t hold back my tears anymore. They come all at once, and before I know it I’m sobbing and snotting all over my best Ethan Allen pillows. A little later I hear scratching against my door. Pickle has always had a dog sense for when I’m crying, and in sixth grade after Rob Cokran said I was too big of a dork for him to go out with—right in the middle of the cafeteria, in front of everybody—Pickle sat on my bed and licked the tears off one after another.
I don’t know why that’s the example that pops into my head, but thinking about that moment makes a new rush of anger and frustration swell up inside of me. It’s strange how much the memory affects me. I’ve never mentioned that day to Rob—I doubt he remembers—but I’ve always liked to think about it when we’re walking down the hallway, our fingers interlaced, or when we’re all hanging out in Tara Flute’s basement, and Rob looks over at me and winks. I like to think how funny life is: how so much changes. How people change.
But now I just wonder when, exactly, I became cool enough for Rob Cokran.
After a while the scratching on my door stops. Pickle has finally realized he’s not getting in, and I hear his paws ticking against the floor as he trots off. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so alone in my life.
I cry until it seems amazing that one person could have so many tears. It seems like they must be coming from the very tips of my toes.
Then I sleep without dreaming.
I wake up thinking about a movie I once saw. The main character dies somehow—I forget how—but he’s only half dead. One part of him is lying there in a coma, and one part of him is wandering the world, kind of in limbo. The point is, so long as he’s not completely 100 percent dead, a piece of him is trapped in this in-between place.
This gives me hope for the first time in two days. The idea that I might be lying somewhere in a coma, my family bending over me and everyone worrying and filling my hospital room with flowers, actually makes me feel good.
Because if I’m not dead—at least not yet—there may be a way to stop it.
My mom drops me off in Upper Lot just before third period starts (.22 miles or not, I will not be seen getting out of my mom’s maroon 2003 Accord, which she won’t trade in because she says it’s “fuel efficient”). Now I can’t wait to get to school. I have a gut feeling I’ll find the answers there. I don’t know how or why I’m stuck in this time loop, but the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that there’s a reason for it.
“See you later,” I say, and start to pop out of the car.
But something stops me. It’s the idea that’s been bugging me for the past twenty-four hours, what I was trying to talk to my friends about in the Tank: how you might not ever really know. How you might be walking down the street one day and—bam!
“It’s cold, Sam.” My mom leans over the passenger seat and gestures for me to shut the door.
I turn around and stoop down to look at her. It takes me a second to work the words out of my mouth, but I mumble, “Iloveyou.”
I feel so weird saying it, it comes out more like olivejuice. I’m not even sure if she understands me. I slam the door quickly before she can respond. It’s probably been years since I’ve said “I love you” to either of my parents, except on Christmas or birthdays or when they say it first and it’s pretty much expected. It leaves me with a weird feeling in my stomach, part relief and part embarrassment and part regret.
As I’m walking toward school I make a vow: there’s not going to be an accident tonight.
And whatever it is—this bubble or hiccup in time—I’m busting out.
Here’s another thing to remember: hope keeps you alive. Even when you’re dead, it’s the only thing that keeps you alive.
The bell has already rung for third period, so I book it to chem. I get there just in time to take a seat—big surprise—next to Lauren Lornet. The quiz goes off, same as yesterday and the day before—except by now I can answer the first question myself.
Pen. Ink. Working? Mr. Tierney. Book. Slam. Jump.
“Keep it,” Lauren whispers to me, practically batting her eyelashes at me. “You’re going to need a pen.” I start to try to pass it back, as usual, but something in her expression sparks a memory. I remember coming home after Tara Flute’s pool party in seventh grade and seeing my face in the mirror lit up exactly like that, like somebody had handed me a winning lottery ticket and told me my life was about to change.
“Thanks.” I stuff the pen into my bag. She’s still making that face—I can see it out of the corner of my eye—and after a minute I whip around and say, “You shouldn’t be so nice to me.”
“What?” Now she looks completely stunned. Definitely an improvement.
I have to whisper because Tierney’s started his lesson again. Chemical reactions, blah, blah, blah. Transfiguration. Put two liquids together and they form a solid. Two plus two does not equal four.
“Nice to me. You shouldn’t be.”
“Why not?” She squinches up her forehead so her eyes nearly disappear.
“Because I’m not nice to you.” The words are surprisingly hard to get out.
“You’re nice,” Lauren says, looking at her hands, but she obviously doesn’t mean it. She looks up and tries again. “You don’t…”
She trails off, but I know what she’s going to say. You don’t have to be nice to me.
“Exactly,” I say.
“Girls!” Mr. Tierney bellows, slamming his fist down on his lab station. I swear he goes practically neon.
Lauren and I don’t talk for the rest of class, but I leave chem feeling good, like I’ve done the right thing.
“That’s what I like to see.” Mr. Daimler drums his fingers on my desk as he walks the aisles at the end of class collecting homework. “A big smile. It’s a beautiful day—”
“It’s supposed to rain later,” Mike Heffner interjects, and everyone laughs. He’s an idiot.
Mr. Daimler doesn’t skip a beat. “—and it’s Cupid Day. Love is in the air.” He looks straight at me and my heart stops for a second. “Everyone should be smiling.”
“Just for you, Mr. Daimler,” I say, making my voice extra sweet. More giggles and one loud snort from the back. I turn around and see Kent, head down, scribbling furiously on the cover of his notebook.
Mr. Daimler laughs and says, “And here I thought I’d gotten you excited about differential equations.”
“You got her excited about something,” Mike mutters. More laughter from the class. I’m not sure if Mr. Daimler hears—he doesn’t seem to—but the tips of his ears turn red.
The whole class has been like this. I’m in a good mood, certain everything will be okay. I’ve got it all figured out. I’m going to get a second chance. Plus Mr. Daimler’s been paying me extra attention. After the Cupids came in he took a look at my four roses, raised his eyebrows, and said I must have secret admirers everywhere.
“Not so secret,” I said, and he winked at me.
After class I gather up my stuff and go out into the hall, pausing for just a second to check over my shoulder. Sure enough, Kent’s bounding along after me, shirt untucked, messenger bag half open and slapping against his thigh. What a mess. I start walking toward the cafeteria. Today I looked more carefully at his note: the tree is sketched in black ink, each dip and shadow in the bark shaded perfectly. The leaves are tiny and diamond shaped. The whole thing must have taken him hours. I stuck it between two pages of my math book so it wouldn’t get crushed.
“Hey,” he says, catching up with me. “Did you get my note?”
I almost say to him, It’s really good, but something stops me. “‘Don’t drink and love?’ Is that some kind of a catchphrase I don’t know about?”
“I consider it my civic duty to spread the word.” Kent puts his hand over his heart.
A thought flashes—you wouldn’t be talking to me if you could remember—but I push it aside. This is Kent McFuller. He’s lucky I’m talking to him at all. Besides, I don’t plan on being at the party tonight: no party, no Juliet Sykes, no reason for Kent to wig out on me. Most important, no accident.
“More like spread the weirdness,” I say.
“I take that as a compliment.” Kent suddenly looks serious. He scrunches up his face so that all the light freckles on his nose come together like a constellation. “Why do you flirt with Mr. Daimler? He’s a perv, you know.”