Seven Minutes in Heaven

Page 30


“Wouldn’t it be easier if the only person I hurt was myself?” he whispers. Another shiver passes through him. His hair sticks up like a blond halo around his head, bright against the wide darkness beyond him.
“Garrett.” I’m kneeling now, my bare legs aching beneath me. The scrapes on my knees burn against the stony outcropping. “Things will be better. I promise. But you have to back up for me.”
He shakes his head. “Things won’t be better,” he says softly. “Not for me.” He leans forward, his eyes wide and staring into the abyss. “Maybe I could make them better for everyone else, though.”
The fear from a moment ago is back, but now it’s different—now I’m not afraid for myself. I inch closer to him.
“Do you really think Louisa would feel that way? Or your mom?” The wind swirls up from the ravine, cutting right through my hoodie, so sharp I can feel it in my bones. “How do you think they’d feel if they lost you?” I swallow hard. “How do you think I’d feel?”
I can hear the faint echo of my own voice dancing through the chasm below. How would I feel? I know I don’t love Garrett. But I do care about him. When we first got together, I thought I could help him get over the things that had hurt him. I thought if I were pretty enough, charming enough, fun enough, if I could distract him enough, he’d just get better.
Now that seems insanely narcissistic, even for me.
“Please, Garrett,” I say, my voice shaking. I hold out my hand to him. “Come off the ledge, okay? Please.”
He stares at my hand, his face strange and distant. His eyes seem to have a hard time focusing, his head wobbling on his neck. For a moment we’re frozen in place, and I can’t breathe.
Then his hand clasps mine, and my shoulders sag with relief.
His palm is moist, and the salt of his sweat burns the stings and cuts I’ve accumulated all night long. I pull him toward me, away from that nightmare abyss. He stumbles against me. I put my arms around him to steady him, and we stand like that for a moment. I can feel the tremble that’s seized his body, fluttering against my heart.
“We should get out of here,” he whispers. The scare seems to have sobered him up a little. His pupils are enormous in the darkness, his eyes focusing more clearly now.
I let go of him. I’m suddenly tired to the bone, my body limp as a rag doll. For a moment I think about climbing down with Garrett. His car will be in the parking lot, and he will be able to take me home. He seems clear-headed enough to drive now, and I can tell how bad he feels, both for accosting me and for almost dropping me.
But I don’t feel safe with him. I know how hurt he’s been, and I know he doesn’t mean to lash out—but I’ve been making excuses for him for months now.
“You go ahead,” I say. My voice is soft but firm. “I want some time alone, okay?”
He frowns at me. “It’s dangerous out here at night. I don’t think I should leave you.”
I shake my head. “Look, it’s been a crazy night. I need some time to process it all, okay? I’ll be all right. I’ll head down to Nisha’s when I’m ready to get out of here. But right now I just need a little space.”
He doesn’t let go of my hand. For just a moment he looks into my eyes, and I can see everything he wants to say there—how sorry he is, how sad he is, how much he loves me. I look away, toward the bright city lights.
“Will you call me tomorrow?” he asks, a slight tremor in his voice.
I hesitate. I want so badly to break it off with him, once and for all. I want a brand-new start when I walk off this mountain. But if I set him off again, who knows what he’ll do?
“Yeah,” I say. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Tomorrow, when he’s sober, when we’re not in the middle of nowhere, I’ll rip the bandage off. I’ll end it and tell him my decision is final. But for now this is the best I can do.
He reaches out to take my hand in his. We stand that way for a minute, him cradling my fingers in his palm. Something about it—how tender he’s gotten, and how ashamed—twists my heart. Then he pulls away, still a little shaky on his feet, and turns wordlessly, walking slowly down the trail to the parking lot. I can hear him even after he disappears from my sight, breaking branches and stumbling.
A profound silence settles over the canyon when he’s gone. All of the city sounds—barking dogs and sirens and cruising motors—have died away.
It’s a strange feeling. All day long, I’m surrounded by voices that tell me where I belong, what I should be doing, who I am. But tonight, in this deep, dark silence, I can decide that for myself. I climb onto a low boulder and stare out over the city. It’s beautiful and calm from here. People are asleep in their beds, never suspecting that one lonely girl is looking at the twinkling lights outside their homes.
I’ve only been out here a few hours, but it feels like years have passed. I’ve learned so much tonight, about who I am and where I came from. About who I want to be. It’s hard to know what tomorrow will hold—I’ll have to face my dad again, after discovering his secrets. I’ll have to face Laurel, who’s spent the night in the ER with Thayer. Then I think about the e-mail draft on my phone. I quickly pull it up, but just as I suspected, the top corner is flashing with NO SERVICE. I reread it, and a little thrill goes through me. I mean every word. The moment that I have a signal again, I’m sending this to Thayer. And my secret twin sister—I will find her, if it’s the last thing I do.
And deep inside my sore, stiff body, I feel a sense of peace. Everything is going to be different, starting tomorrow.
I stand up, brushing the dirt off my thighs. I’ve had enough soul-searching for one night. It’s time for my pajamas and a cup of my mom’s peppermint tea. Time to get down the mountain and find a ride home.
But then someone clears his throat behind me.
I turn slowly to see a guy standing there. He’s tall, with high cheekbones and dark hair. His frayed hiking shorts show off his muscular calves. On his hands he wears black climbing gloves, and a bashful smile plays around his lips.
It’s Ethan Landry.
“Oh. Hey,” I say, jerking my neck backward in surprise. “What are you doing out here?”
Even in the pale moonlight I can see him blush. He kicks at a stone with the tip of his sneaker. “Sorry to startle you. I saw you on the trail from my house,” he says, gesturing to the darkness below us. “I was watching the stars. There’s a meteor shower tonight.”
Ethan watches me intently, and I suddenly feel self-conscious. There’s blood caked on one leg where I scraped myself, and I’ve fallen in the dirt a half dozen times. I run my fingers through my hair and come away with a leaf in my hand.
Ethan steps closer, and I can see him more clearly now. A concerned frown crumples his brow. It seems odd that he’s out so late, but Ethan’s always been a little bit odd—I remember him carrying around a tarantula in a jar in junior high, and getting in trouble during gym class for looking at the flowers in the outfield when he was supposed to be playing baseball. He’s not exactly in my circle—he’s cute enough, but he’s always been so shy. Then recently, he walked in on a Lying Game prank gone out of control. It was Laurel’s stupid snuff film, and Ethan had pulled her off me and then stayed with me while my head cleared.
Now he shifts his weight, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Are you okay? You look . . . well, you look like you’ve had a long night.”
“Oh, yeah . . . I’m okay.” My smile trembles a little and then collapses. “It’s been a really weird night, is all.”
He touches my shoulder, his hand warm through my shirt. “Do you want to talk about it?”
And suddenly, I do. My voice shaking and weak, I tell him everything. About Thayer coming to town, and how we fought, and how someone ran him down. About my dad being my grandfather, and Becky appearing after I’d wondered about my birth mother so long. About how Garrett had been getting out of control, so angry and so hurt he lashed out at everything around him. It all comes flooding out of me. Ethan doesn’t try to interrupt or offer advice. He just nods every now and then, watching me steadily through his long lashes.
“I feel like a different person than when I climbed up here,” I finish. “I know that sounds lame. But so much has happened.”
“It doesn’t sound lame,” he says. “You’ve been through a lot tonight.” His eyes are focused on my face. I’m suddenly aware that I’ve just told him things I’m not even ready to tell my best friends—and I barely know him. The thought makes me a little nervous. But Ethan’s such a good listener, and he never told anyone about the snuff film. I feel implicitly that I can trust him. When he puts his arm around my shoulder, I feel safe for the first time all night.
“Please don’t tell anyone,” I whisper. “I’m not really ready for people to know all this.”
“Of course,” he says. “I’ll keep all your secrets, Sutton.”
My face breaks into a smile. I feel so much lighter after unloading everything that’s happened. Confiding in Ethan feels so natural, so comfortable—I wonder how we’ve been in school together since we were kids and yet barely ever talked. He’s always been so quiet, almost standoffish. Then again, I probably haven’t seemed like the friendliest person to him, either.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that it’s not just school where I’ve seen Ethan. We’ve crossed paths countless times, at the coffee shop, at the movie theater. Sometimes he’s hanging out alone at the park when I go to the tennis courts, sitting on a bench reading a paperback. We’ve orbited each other for years, and we’ve never connected. Not until tonight.
I smile up at him. “I never had a chance to tell you thanks. For, you know, helping me that night. When my friends were pranking me.”
He shrugs. “You guys sure play rough with each other.”
“Yeah.” I give an embarrassed laugh. “That one got really out of control.”
“Friends aren’t supposed to hurt each other that way.” His voice sounds strangely choked. I put my arm around his waist and hug him.
“You’re right,” I say softly. “You should be able to count on your friends.”
The stars are vibrant overhead now. I tilt my head up to look at their bright light. One in particular catches my eye, pure white and so steady it doesn’t flicker like the others do. It’s so beautiful I don’t notice Ethan’s hand on my chin for a moment. Then he’s leaning over me, his lips soft against mine.
A surprised jolt runs through me. Ethan Landry isn’t a boy I’ve ever even imagined kissing. For a moment I’m so stunned I don’t move. Then I put my hands on his chest and push him gently away.
“Oh, Ethan, no. I’m so sorry if I’ve done anything to mislead you, but I just—I like you as a friend.” My voice is as soft as I can make it. “I’m in love with Thayer.”