Read a Free Excerpt of The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk

Loss pulled Autumn, Shay, and Logan apart. Will music bring them back together? Despite the odds, one band’s music will reunite them and prove that after grief, beauty thrives in the people left behind. Told from three diverse points of view, this story of life and love after loss is one Angie Thomas, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Hate U Give, believes “will stay with you long after you put it down.” Start reading this heart-wrenching and hopeful novel now…

1

Autumn

JAN. 14, 10:48 A.M.

I just saw you yesterday. There’s no way this is real. It can’t be. I keep waiting for you to call.

Tavia may not be on Hangouts right now. She’ll see your messages later.

From: HeCalledItAutumn@gmail.com

To: TaviaViolet@gmail.com

Sent: Jan. 16, 5:17 p.m.

Subject: <none>

I stared at my phone through most of your funeral. I could have said goodbye to you in my room with some vanilla- scented candles, a few of your favorite songs, violets, and a can of orange soda. But instead we had to do this public ritual where we all stood around, watching each other cry. When I woke up, I already knew today would be the worst day of my life.

When we get to the church, your brother walks straight to the front and kisses the top of the casket, but I can’t go up there. So I just head to the second row of pews and sit down at the very end. I look at my phone, at the infinite stream of pictures of you, and I try not to look anywhere else. For the first time ever, I feel grateful for how many selfies you took, and I feel bad that I always teased you about being conceited. If I didn’t have hundreds of digital squares with you in them, I’m not sure how I’d remember to breathe. After a while, when I do look up, I use different squares— ones of tinted sunshine spilling through the stained- glass windows— to mark time as they move across the room.

I’m sitting with your family. Your mom is squeezing rosary beads in her hand, weeping in a way that doesn’t make any noise. Your dad’s staring straight ahead, but not really looking at anything. Dante sits down beside me after he kisses your casket, and I can feel that he’s crying by the way his shoulder moves against mine.

Part of me wants to shift away from him, but I’m frozen.

My family’s sitting a few rows behind me. My mother’s dress is impeccable, but her blue eyes are sad, and my dad has had his head bent the whole time, like a world without you is one he doesn’t want to see. Between their blond heads is Willow’s angled black bob, and you’d love this haircut on her if you were here. Sometime between winter break ending and yesterday, she bleached the bluntly cut ends and dyed them hot pink. She looks like a K- Pop star despite her puffy, red eyes. When she flew in from college yesterday, she crawled into bed with me the minute she got home and rubbed small circles on my back.

Willow sees me looking at her, so she squeezes out of their pew and comes up to mine. You know I don’t really look like my sister, even on a good day. But with her hair the way it is now— so full and sharp and pink (and mine the way that it always is: too long and fine and flat)— we could be strangers. I look like the “before” scene in the Korean dramas we watched together, where the girls miraculously turn pretty.

But when Willow reaches me, she touches my flat black hair, like it’s silk. She holds my hand, as if it’s made of glass, and looks at me a little too closely. I squeeze her fingers before letting them go to look back down at my phone, and she steps back and stays quiet. She doesn’t try to make me talk, which is a miracle, because I thought she was going to be pushy— you know how my sister can get. But she was perfect. People forget how much silence can help at times like these.

No one in my family has said anything, but I can tell how they feel by the way my sister reaches for my hand. The way my mother stares at me. How differently my dad says my name. They’re so happy I wasn’t with you that night that they can’t keep their hands, eyes, and voices away from me. But every time I think about the fact that I wasn’t, I feel like I’m drowning.

When you went to Alexa’s party without me, I was upset that you didn’t beg me to come out with you; that you went, even though I didn’t want to go. It’s stupid, but it hurt, and Margo and Faye were there too, so there wasn’t even anyone for me to text and complain. I was just going to eat ice cream, read a book, and go to bed early.

Then Dante called.

I went to your house to hang out with him— to have some fun without you because you were doing things without me.

And now I have to live with this: I was flirting with him when I could have been stopping you.

For some reason, the priest asks everyone to stand. I wasn’t paying attention, so when Dante pulls me up and into his side, I don’t realize right away that it’s time to pray. His touch takes me away from the world inside my phone, where you’re still grinning and singing and alive. And for a second, I just collapse against your brother.

I can’t stand on my own in a world where you don’t exist.

Dante reads the weight of my body as an invitation. He tucks my head under his chin, and I feel a few of his tears hit my scalp where my hair’s parted.

It’s so complicated— the way I feel about him, but I can’t think about that now, when I can barely stay on my feet. So I hook my hand around his hip and hold on tight. And when the sounds around me return and I hear the priest praying, I look at the photo of you that sits at the front of the church in a wreath of violets instead of closing my eyes.

After a few minutes of standing here anchored to Dante, I start to feel a little less like I’m sinking. Or at least like if I’m going down, he won’t let me hit the bottom alone.

At the cemetery, Willow holds my hand again like a good big sister, and I lean into her like I did with Dante at the church. She cries and cries while the priest sprinkles holy water over the grave, and I just stare at the dirty hem of the priest’s robe. He says your full name the way your grandmother says it, at the same time as I read it in the obituary I’m somehow still holding.

“Oak- TAH- bia Bi- oh- LEH- tah SO- toe.”

Octavia Violeta Soto.

And my whole body goes cold.

I’m supposed to drop a handful of dirt into your grave like everyone else a few minutes later, but after your dad starts crying, I just can’t. By the time it’s my turn it’s raining, and most of the soil has turned to mud anyway. So instead, I shove the damp obituary into my pocket. I pull petals from a yellow rose, one at a time, and let them fall— bright against the dark earth all around them— right before the casket sinks into the ground. I don’t try to figure out if anyone loves me as I yank away each velvety petal, the way you used to (He loves me? He loves me not? Autumn, he loves me!). I just tell the rose how much I’m going to miss you. How much I already do.

I miss you.

I miss you.

I miss you.

There’s never an I miss you not. And there aren’t enough petals on the flower. There aren’t enough petals in the world.

In the limo, Dante has to pull the thorny stem out of my trembling hand because I’m still gripping it, even though the naked and ugly bud is the only thing left.

Hours after our friends and your extended family and my family leave your house, I stay. I help Dante inventory all the frozen casseroles and stews and empanadas that people leave be-hind on your kitchen counters.

When we finish, I pull out my phone again and get lost in it. But Dante starts pacing around your living room, very much in the here and now.

He kicks the leg of your dining room table. He punches a wall and says it’s all bullshit. I don’t want to be here to witness Dante explode, but it’s been almost impossible for me to leave your house since you died. I still can’t make myself go.

Dante opens and closes his hand after he hits the wall. It settles into a tight fist, like he’s holding one of his drumsticks. He aims his angular dark eyes at me, and says, “You think it’s bullshit too, don’t you?”

He’s talking about the comments on your photos. They’ve been rolling in nonstop all week.

I stay quiet. I look down at my phone and read a few of the newest ones.

I don’t have a right to say anything. I’ve been looking through your photos since the accident, just like everyone else. I’ve been clicking on every single picture you ever posted, reading over your captions and hashtags, like they’re prayers. I’ve been ignoring the “Rest in peace,” “We’ll miss you,” and “Only the good die young” messages people who barely even spoke to you have been leaving beneath your selfies. There are more broken heart emojis in the comments than there are kids at our school.

But Dante’s right. They are all bullshit. So I look back up at him and nod.

With my approval, Dante turns to look at the other side of the room. I don’t know what he’s going to say next until he says it.

“We need to get it deleted.”

I’d forgotten your father was in the room, but that’s who Dante’s talking to now, probably because your dad has always been the kind of dad who gets things done. Like that time he argued with our teacher for giving us detention for passing notes, when really I was giving you a Tylenol in an origami box because you had cramps. Or the time he volunteered to coach our girls’ soccer team when we were in middle school after the paid coach got let go. But ever since your accident, he just kind of sits there, like nothing matters. Or maybe like everything does, but he doesn’t know where to start.

Dante can’t delete your accounts. Your mom already cut off your cell phone. I only know that because I was calling your number over and over again on speakerphone while I sat in the school parking lot yesterday, just so your voice could fill the air like it used to.

I wanted to memorize the way you sounded. Where your tone changed and how I could hear a song playing softly in the background. Now I can’t get your voice out of my head.

Hey! You’ve reached Tavia’s phone. It’s probably in my pocket or in my purse or on my bed, and I’m sure I really want to talk to you. So leave me something lovely because I love you.

The last time I called, I got an automated message instead. And it was so shocking, to go from hearing you to hearing We’re sorry. You have reached a number that has been disconnected or is no longer in service. If you feel you’ve received this message in error, please check the number and try again.

I didn’t need to check the number, but I did try again.

I don’t look at your dad or Dante as I find your name, press down to call you, and put my phone on speaker. And when that recorded robot voice tells us your number’s been disconnected, your dad looks at me from across the room. He shakes his head, like he can’t deal; mutters something in Spanish; and stands up to leave. A minute later, I hear the front door slam.

I look at Dante, and everything about him softens. The hard angles of his face become curves. The onyx of his eyes melts into molasses.

“Did you know,” I ask, “that her number was already dead?” I flush a little after I hear myself say that word. He shakes his head.

I wish I’d taken screenshots of every photo you ever sent me, every selfie with filters that made your eyes sparkle or gave you the ears and nose of some adorable animal, because those were private, meant only for me, and the ones Dante wants to delete are public, for everyone to see. But the private stuff only lasted a few seconds, and now those are gone forever, just like you. With your phone turned off too, I need to preserve every piece of you that hasn’t disappeared.

So while he seems gentler, I ask Dante not to get rid of your accounts.

“With her phone gone, these pictures are some of the last things we have left that are purely her.”

He still looks like he wants to punch something, but he just keeps watching me, quietly.

Even though I know there isn’t, I say, “I’ll see if there’s a way to disable the comments.”

He frowns, but then he nods.

“And I’ll post something asking people to stop,” I add.

I don’t say that I know all your passwords and that I could erase every trace of you in a few seconds.

I don’t say that I still send you instant messages and emails or that during every free moment I have I watch the long- ago- posted videos of you singing and playing the piano. I don’t tell Dante that as soon as I walk out of his house, I’ll put my earbuds in and dial my own voice mail because you left me a funny message six months ago that I’m so grateful I never got around to deleting.

I haven’t cried, but I don’t say that, either. My hands shake every time I think about your name, and Dante can’t know that.

He has enough on his mind.

From the look on his face I can tell he’s thinking about how we found out about the crash. Some idiot from our high school took a picture of your upside- down car and posted it to his story with a black- and- white filter and the caption SHIIIIIT. Just saw the worst accident. 

Perry, of all people, texted a screenshot of the

picture to me with a message:

Holy shit. This isn’t Tavia’s car, is it?

It was. The Unraveling Lovely bumper sticker, the one we designed for the band’s tour last summer, was a dead giveaway.

I knew you were on your way to see Perry, but he had no idea.

I didn’t even message him back.

I can feel Dante looking at me. He probably knows I’m remembering that night too.

“You okay?” he asks.

We say this to each other all the time now, whenever one of us catches the other zoning out; whenever it’s clear we’re thinking about you. I nod, even though I’ll never be okay again, but I don’t know what else to say.

I ask him the same question. “Are you?”

And he nods too, completing the circular lie we’ve been telling each other for days, since we first saw the photo of your car.

Lying is the new language we speak. It’s the only way we can talk at all.

Dante’s been looking at me a little too much all day, and it’s starting to get to me, so I stand up. I haven’t seen your mom in a while anyway. Your brother’s heavy gaze follows me like a shadow as I make my way out of the room. But I don’t look back.

When I find your mom, she’s sitting on your bed. Her rosary beads are in a pile on her lap.

I sit on the floor by her feet. She smiles and pets my head, like I’m a puppy, and the whole room smells like you. Vanilla has always come from your open bottles of shampoo, your hand lotions, your candles. Today’s no different, except you’re not here, and the smell seems all wrong without you, like an echo heard miles from its maker. It’s almost too much to take.

From across the hall loud music starts to play. Your mom sighs and I turn my head, but neither of us gets up to check on Dante.

She says “Hey, Autumn” a bit late, but she’s smiling a real smile. Your mom has always been so steady, but her hands are shaking, just like they had before she fainted at the hospital.

“Hi,” I say back. I pull my sleeves over my own trembling fingers.

Then we just sit there, silent and lonely for you together, because hellos are nice and neat and so much easier than goodbyes.

 

 

2

LOGAN

BRAM IS BORED so he drinks expired milk.

160,791 views | 1 month ago

Shit.

Bram’s face is on the news again, and I feel like I’m gonna puke.

You would think they would do the right thing and ask his mom for a picture. But apparently, reporters are lazy douchebags.

So they just threw up the first photo they found. They probably just image searched his name. Awesome journalism, assholes.

It’s been weeks, but they won’t stop showing the last picture he ever posted. So he’s always in his uniform. Forever on the field. Immortalized with his helmet in one hand, the ball in the other. He’s grinning his cocky grin because he was a cocky bastard, but it seems like there should be a protocol in place for things like this. It should be his graduation picture or something more dignified. He looks too much like himself in this photo, and some part of me doesn’t want the world to see the real version of him.

Plus, I didn’t think it would still hurt to see him like that.

Lively.

Fucking alive.

His name is scrolling along the bottom of the screen, like he’s a thunderstorm warning and not a dead kid.

New evidence in Bram Lassiter case . . .

Bram Lassiter . . . Bram Lassiter . . . Bram Lassiter . . .

I used to tell him his name sounded like a serial killer’s. Or a horror movie director’s. Or like the bad guy’s name in a really shitty book. He used to say he liked my red hair best when it was short and we were sitting in the sun. “I have a thing for gingers,” he’d say, with that beautiful grin of his splitting his face wide open.

But that was before. And we hadn’t spoken in months. That, like most things, is all my fault.

“We go again tonight to Bayside High School, where varsity quarterback and popular video blogger Bram Lassiter was found dead in the boys’ locker room on Christmas Eve.

“Local law enforcement originally believed Lassiter’s death was the result of a hate crime because his body was found beaten. A video of the student engaged in a homosexual act circulated online three weeks before his death, and though most of Lassiter’s close friends and relatives knew of his sexual orientation, many of his online followers did not.

“Lassiter received numerous threats of violence following the video’s release, but an autopsy revealed that the visible injuries were not the cause of death. A tox screen recently confirmed a drug overdose. NYPD are now completely eliminating the possibility of foul play and are ruling the death a suicide.”

“Maybe this will help,” Aden says, and I snap out of my Bram haze for a second. Aden crosses his small dorm room, going from his bed to his desk in two big steps, thanks to his long legs. He turns the TV off and pulls something up on his laptop. Then music— my music— fills the air. It’s a song by my old band, and while he’s a huge fan of our stuff, he only plays Unraveling Lovely when we’re working on a song if he knows I’m stuck.

He walks back to his bed and quietly strums his guitar along with the music, and I give him a small smile. This song, a new one I’m trying to write, has had me stumped for a solid three weeks. When Bram died, so did my ability to write. Aden’s patient with me, though, because when we met at a show a few months ago, I was turning out some okay stuff.

I could tell right away that Aden was everything I needed after the Unraveling Lovely fiasco— everything that everyone in my old band wasn’t. Aden’s quiet. Uncomplicated. Nice. Predictable.

Plus, he isn’t some lame high school dude who’s not sure

if he’s serious about music. He knew like I did. Like I do. He’s in the freaking music performance program at Queens College.

And if I can get my shit together, I know we can make beautiful music.

But when Bram’s face is fucking everywhere, the way he kissed me, the way I felt when he touched me, is all I can think about.

It makes writing music with Aden nearly impossible. And lately, my mind is always somewhere else. On someone else.

Bram.

“Logan,” Aden says. My small smile hasn’t lasted. I’m staring at the floor biting my thumbnail— the dark blue polish I’m wearing is flaking off and onto my teeth— and not because I’m thinking about the song I’m supposed to be writing.

Aden’s voice doesn’t sound impatient, but I can tell he’s called my name more than once, by the way his eyes look.

“Do you want one?” He’s wiggling a can of beer in his hand.

I blink and lick my lips. I smile again. I nod. I need to stop thinking about Bram when I’m supposed to be working on this song. Jesus.

“I know you’re trying to write,” he says. He tosses me the beer. “But we need to find a drummer. That’s a little more pressing than you finishing a song.”

I nod again as I drain the beer like it’s a glass of water. He doesn’t get it. Not being able to finish this song is stressing me out.

“We need a band name, too,” he adds. “Want to brainstorm that?”

Aden looks over at where I’m sitting on the floor after opening a beer for himself. I shrug and reach for another can.

“Or . . . we could make some audition flyers,” he suggests next, completely undeterred by my silence. “We can take some to The 715— UL used to play there, right? And put them up online.

We can say something like ‘Former lead singer of Unraveling

Lovely seeks badass drummer,’ maybe,” he says, and I roll my eyes so hard, they hurt a little. “What do you think?”

“I don’t want to use my old band’s name anywhere. You’re new here, but last summer, we were kind of a big deal,” I tell him, because he doesn’t know any of our history. Last summer we also bombed at Battle of the Bands big- time. He doesn’t know that, either, but it’s a detail I decide to keep to myself.

Aden nods and sips his beer. “That’s my point. We can use that. We can attract a drummer with the name Unraveling Lovely alone.”

“We’re not using UL’s name,” I say again.

He sits down across from me on the floor, and his dark eyes sparkle. I can see his expression softening, that he’s morphing into flirty- Aden, but I did not come over for this. You’re not supposed to date your only other band member, so on a good day,

I try to pretend I don’t notice when he flirts with me. On bad days, I flirt back.

He touches my knee. “Sorry, L,” he says. He only calls me

L when he’s hitting on me. “I can respect that. And I know the music is important to you. It matters to me too. But there will be time later to write the perfect song.” He reaches for my phone because I always write in my notes app. But the song is still shit, and I don’t want him to see.

I put my phone facedown on the floor before he touches it, and I sigh. “It’s fine. You’re right.”

The thing is, I know exactly what’s broken about this song: it’s the first one I’ve tried to write that isn’t about Bram.

Aden nods, bats his dark eyelashes, and smiles. But when I lean forward for beer number three, he says, “Whoa. Trying for a record?” He reaches for the can sitting on the floor in front of me and shakes it to confirm it’s empty. It is.

I shrug and say, “I guess not,” but my head is screaming Hell yes as he turns the music off and the TV back on.

Aden pulls his laptop onto the floor, and we design some calls for drummers that he says he’ll hang up around campus and I say that I’ll post online. Then we make out a little, because we do that sometimes, and I can almost forget about everything for the first few minutes when Aden’s lips are pressed against mine; when hands are impossibly everywhere at once. But when he laughs and breaks contact and then says, “Jeez, L, let me catch my breath,” I can’t help but remember how Bram and I wouldn’t stop kissing until we were both gasping for air.

I’m a little buzzed— the promise of oblivion almost close enough to touch— so when Aden goes down the hall to use the bathroom, I root around under his bed for the whiskey I know he has stashed.

I tip the bottle into the Cherry Coke I brought with me, and when Aden comes back, I’m sipping it. I’m the most innocent, not- trying- to- get- drunk kid in the world, and I’m staring at my song again.

Some dumb reality show comes on, so Aden changes the channel, and there Bram is again— his name, his face, and one of his videos frozen behind the newscaster’s head— just when I thought I was rid of him.

“You knew that kid, right? He went to your school?” Aden asks, as if proximity is all it takes. As if closeness is what makes people close.

This isn’t the first time he’s asked me about Bram, so it’s not the first time I’ve lied about him.

“You’re from a tiny town, where everyone knows everyone else,” I say, because he is, and high school in Queens is different.

“There are thousands of kids in my high school, hundreds in my graduating class. I didn’t know him,” I lie. Again. “But yeah, I knew of him because of football and his dumbass videos. Everyone knew Bram Lassiter.”

I kinda want to say his name again, but I know I shouldn’t, so I try to act like I don’t notice Bram’s face on TV anymore. I ignore the news the way I’ve been trying my hardest to ignore the conspiracy theories that have been all over school and the

Internet. There are a million rumors about what really happened to Bram, and suicide has always been one of them.

But when we were together, Bram was a fucking ray of sunshine most of the time. I don’t get how he could go from the happy- go- lucky goofball who loved sports and doing dumb things on camera for laughs to a guy who’d off himself the way they say he did: in a locker room, with pills, all alone.

Aden asks me to sleep over. “Just sleep,” he insists, and I agree because I don’t want to go home, so I text my mom to tell her. We order pizza and watch more TV with the lights out, and

I forget about Bram for a while until Aden passes out. Thanks to my spiked Coke, I’m left lying there, wide- awake, tipsy and alone in the dark.

I slide my phone out of the pocket of my discarded jeans. I go to Bram’s profile without really deciding to. I start looking for the photos of us together that I untagged months ago.

My phone is like a time machine. My thumb is the key. I travel back through the last six months with a flick of my finger, and I’m not there, not there, not there.

Until I am.

Thumbnails of Bram and me fill the screen, more than three hundred altogether. I can’t believe they’re all still here. I look over at Aden to make sure he’s still asleep, then back at the pictures on my phone, wondering why (how?) Bram never had the heart (or the balls) to erase them.

In the photos, we’re at my apartment scarfing down takeout.

We’re high off our asses on my stoop, red- eyed and laughing.

We’re on the subway and then the Long Island Rail Road.

We’re on his fire escape and at the beach tanning on matching bright green towels. In one blurry selfie, we’re in his bed, sheets of paper covered in math equations scattered all around us.

Bram sucked at algebra. It’s the only reason we met. Freshman year, he went out for football and made second- string varsity while I was writing sad songs and experimenting with liquid eyeliner.

By sophomore year, he’d become the starting quarterback, and I’d joined a pretty crappy band. So the odds were against us.

We were on opposite ends of the popularity spectrum. But he was shit at math, and even though I kind of hate school, math’s the one thing I’m good at. Last year, I was already in calc, but he was struggling through algebra 2. I was assigned to be his tutor.

I didn’t know that I was into him right away. I knew that I liked the way he kissed his mom on the forehead every afternoon, as soon as he stepped into their apartment. I knew that I liked the way he twirled one of his curls around his finger like a five- year- old girl when he was trying to work out a really hard problem. I liked the way he tried so hard to fix everything: leaky faucets, hurt feelings, his math grade. And I knew that I fucking loved watching the way the muscles in his forearms flexed every time he picked up a pencil. But I don’t think I knew that I liked him, at least not for sure, until he kissed me the first time.

We were in his bedroom, studying for his midterm. I was solving for x when he made an O beside it in my notebook. I started gnawing on my thumbnail before I even looked up at him. He raised his eyebrows, grinned, and said, “You ever been kissed?”

I opened my mouth, but all of the smartass replies I usually have lined up were gone. I said “um,” and that was all he needed to hear.

Bram grinned even wider. He picked up his phone and started typing, and a second later, that cheesy song about kissing, the one from every nineties rom- com ever, was filling up his tiny room.

“Oh my god,” I said. “You’re not serious.”

He responded, “Dude, this song is awesome,” and started singing along.

I couldn’t stop myself. I laughed, loud. I stared at him, like he’d grown another head. And when the second chorus started, he narrowed his eyes and pushed his curls off his forehead. He looked serious all of a sudden.

“What?” I said. I was biting my nail again, because Bram was so damn cute and I’d never been kissed and he was licking his lips. He pushed my hand away from my mouth, and when I looked back up at him he smirked. Something about the light made his green eyes kind of sparkle. When he kissed me, I almost forgot who I was.

I didn’t even smile when he pulled away. I just grabbed his neck, yanked him back, and made out with him until my lips went numb.

“I’ve never even kissed a girl before,” I whispered to him. But what I didn’t say was that now I knew I never would. We were standing at the door of his bedroom, and my lips were swollen, my face rubbed red from his stubble. He’d just handed me my bag.

When our fingers touched, he smirked and tucked a pencil behind my ear.

“I fucking knew it,” he said. He kissed me again, his big, rough hand on my face like he needed me to hold still. A week later, we were official, and nine months after that, it was over.

I put my phone down and stare through Aden’s window. I can’t see the moon, just the top of a few buildings. And I wish

I were on a rooftop. I wish I were anywhere I could say Bram’s name out loud. Make him real again, even for a second.

When I lift my phone again, I go to his online video channel,

BRAM IS BORED. He started vlogging right before we got together, and by the end, he had thousands of subscribers. It’s funny because I was always the one who wanted to quit school and get famous, and Bram just wanted to play football and go to college. But my band broke up, and his channel took off. He became Internet famous, and I haven’t written a new song in forever.

I pull up the last video he posted, where he chugs an entire gallon of spoiled milk. It’s gross but also kind of funny. Plus, Bram looks good, even when he’s doing dumb shit. I’ve been a subscriber since he posted his first video, and sometimes I even commented, but he never knew it was me. Even when we dated,

I never told him my username.

The views and comments on this video are blowing up. They always seem to surge whenever his face is on the news again, like everyone forgets that he’s fucking dead, and when they remember, they can’t shut up about it. But I’m watching too, as desperate to connect as everyone else. The difference is, I really knew him. We were in love.

I don’t know if it’s the booze or the stupid comments or the pictures of him smiling at me, but my eyes are suddenly pooling with tears. I feel angry and hot, sad and alone. I miss him, like we broke up last week and not six months ago.

I don’t know the rules, because he’s my only ex, but he kept our pictures. And the songs that I wrote and sang about him made me almost famous. So I click inside the comment box and stare at the blinking cursor. I feel like he deserves at least one honest message, even if it’s too late for him to read it.

Bram’s green- and gold- flecked eyes, his big hands, and his deep voice fill my head. I think about kissing him and about more than kissing him. I try to count how many times we said

“I love you” to each other. And then I think about the thing I’m always trying so damn hard not to think about.

Our breakup. His face. The last words I ever said to him.

I swallow hard. I type out three tiny words, and I let them fly before I lose my nerve.

I’m so sorry.

Then I press my face hard into Aden’s extra pillow, hating everything. Especially myself.

I don’t know what I’d do if Aden woke up right now.

I shouldn’t be crying about another boy.

A dead boy.

Even if he was the first boy and only boy I ever loved.

 

 

 

ATTENTION, READER:
THIS IS AN UNCORRECTED EXCERPT

Text copyright © 2018 by Ashley Woodfolk

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