WARNING: IF YOU HAVE NOT READ FLICKER OR FRACTURE, THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS
If your birthday has to land on a school day, having it on a Friday is far superior to the rest of the week. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. Amelia, my best friend and biggest cheerleader, has planned a party to end all parties and she’s convinced me to hang streamers from every permanent fixture in her house.
I grab a roll from the plastic bag. This one reads Happy Birthday. “Remind me why crinkled paper is essential at a party. Aren’t we getting a little old for this?”
Amelia pouts, but it’s quickly replaced with a huge smile that lights up her face. “That one goes over the kitchen table.”
I tilt my head.
“For your cake!”
“Do we really need to announce that it’s my birthday?”
“Biz, eighteen is a big deal. Huge. You should be excited!”
I sink into a chair. “I am excited. Sort of. I just wish…” I trail off.
She stops in front of me, clutching a roll of tape to her chest. “I can still invite him.”
I shake my head. “No. I haven’t spoken to Cameron since Katie’s funeral. I don’t think a party is the right time.”
“When is? You can’t go the rest of the year not talking to each other. You and Cam have been best friends since forever. Two months ago he told you he loves you. That doesn’t just go away because his sister died.”
My heart flinches at the word love. I thought I loved him, too, but too much has happened. “Sometimes it does. It’s been two months since Katie killed herself. I have no idea if he still blames me for not trying hard enough to stop her, but I couldn’t flicker three times…” I shake my head.
We’ve had this conversation before and Amelia has yet to find a way to justify the fact that Cameron was willing to risk my life to save Katie. A double flicker—going back again before I’ve caught up to the time of the first flicker—already led to brain surgery once, and when I went back the second time to help Katie, we didn’t know how close I’d cut the timing. Cameron knew the risks, and even though Martinez, my brain doctor, managed to fix me up without surgery, at the time Cameron didn’t know if I’d need another operation. “I understand why he pressured me, but I’m still upset that he was okay with me getting hurt when I’d already failed to save her. Twice.”
Amelia bites her lip. After a moment, she holds up the roll of tape. “I was hoping we wouldn’t need it but—be right back.” She sprints towards the stairs to her room. Moments later, she’s back at my side, hand behind her back.
“I told you not to get me a present.”
“This isn’t really a present. It’s more of a celebration!” She pulls out her hand, revealing a flask of vodka.
“Since when do you have alcohol?” Amelia drinks the occasional beer, but only when it happens to be at a party. She doesn’t have her own stash.
“I know you’re upset about Cam and I want to make sure you have fun tonight. If Mr…” she turns the bottle to read the brand. “…Stoli needs to help, so be it.” She twists off the cap, sniffs the top, and wrinkles her nose. “I don’t know who the crazies are who say vodka is odorless. It smells like paint thinner.”
I laugh. “Don’t offend Mr. Stoli. He’s just trying to make us happy.” I can’t remember the last time I drank alcohol. My last brush with vodka was the first night Katie killed herself, when she was still alive, holed up in Maddy’s room and refusing to let us help her. Before everything fell apart.
I grab the bottle from her hand and take a small sip, followed by another longer drink. The liquid sets my tongue on fire, burning my throat as it slides to my stomach, sending a warm glow through the rest of my body. I take another swig, then tilt my head back for one final swallow so big it almost makes me gag. I hand her the bottle. “Happy birthday to me.”
The vodka pushes away the all-encompassing numbness that seems to follow me everywhere these days, replacing it with a different sensation that makes me more comfortable in my skin. I could get used to this, but I won’t. I don’t drink often, and when I do, I’m always responsible about it. Speaking of which.
“I should have my mom pick me up. I told her I’d meet them at the restaurant for dinner, but considering,” I waggle the bottle in the air, “I probably shouldn’t be driving.”
Amelia leans forward, eyes wide. “You’re still coming back, right? The epic party will lose its epicness if you’re not here.”
I pull the bottle toward me. “How much have you had?”
She giggles. “Just a couple sips.”
I replace the cap on the bottle and tuck it inside a bag of party supplies. “Take it easy. You need to be fully alert to get me through tonight.” I pull out my phone to text Mom.
Me: Can you pick me up at Amelia’s? I don’t want to lose my parking spot.
“Will they know you’ve been drinking?”
“I don’t think so. If they get suspicious I’ll just say how super excited I am to finally be eighteen.” I smile despite myself. The last few months have nearly sucked the life out of me—Katie’s suicide, her funeral, then radio silence from Cameron ever since, plus the fact that Dad’s health is getting worse every day—but maybe this birthday is the start of better things. Or maybe it’s just the vodka talking.
Amelia’s face breaks into a smile that lights up her face. “That’s the spirit!” Then she throws the streamers at me. “Now climb on the table and wrap this around the chandelier.”
My phone dings as I’m taping the final piece to the light fixture. My heart jumps as a reflex, but I already know it’s not him. I untangle myself from the long strands and pull my phone from my back pocket.
Mom: Sure. Be there in ten minutes.
I jump off the table, landing with a thud that shakes the dishes in the china cabinet. “Time to go. My mom’s on her way.”
“Is this…” she pauses, chewing her lip.
“What?” It’s not like Amelia to not say what’s on her mind.
“I was just thinking about your dad. Is he okay enough to go out to dinner? I mean, I know he has the wheelchair now so walking isn’t an issue, but I wasn’t sure if he has enough energy to go out.”
Outside of my family, Amelia knows the most about my dad, including the fact that he’s not actually dying from epilepsy: he’s dying from years of flickering. Until he found out that I flicker, he’d never told anyone—including his doctor—the real reason for his seizures. He learned the hard way that there’s a limitation to our ability. It’s like we only get a certain number of flickers and once you pass it, your body starts to shut down.
“There’s a Greek restaurant they’ve gone to for years so the staff is really helpful. Not like they’d kick him out or something because he has a wheelchair, but there’s a whole new set of challenges to getting around when you can’t walk.” Dad’s mortified to be seen in public in a wheelchair, but it’s relieved a lot of Mom’s stress since she no longer has to worry about him falling. He jokes that she just likes it because now she can push him around, literally. I like it because it keeps him contained if he has a seizure, so he’s less likely to hurt himself.
“That’s nice he can go out for your birthday, especially since…” she trails off again.
Since this will be my last birthday he’ll be alive for. A lump forms in my throat and tears spring to my eyes, the warm fuzzies from the vodka slipping away. “I know.”
A car beeps in the driveway and I scan the mess on the table. “I’ll help you finish up when I get back.”
She wraps her arms around me and squeezes. “Are you kidding? I’ll have this done in twenty minutes without you here to slow me down.”
I laugh against her shoulder. “Thanks, Amelia.” I sling my bag over my shoulder and head outside. The sunlight blinds me for a moment and I blink to clear my vision. Dad waves a thin arm out the window and I hurry to open the back door. “Thanks for picking me up. Amelia said half the school might show up and I didn’t want to have to park a mile away.”
Mom smiles at me in the rearview mirror. “It’s no problem. We were already loaded and ready to go.” Meaning she’d already helped Dad into the car and lugged his wheelchair into the trunk.
I lean forward to squeeze his shoulder. “How are you feeling?”
He presses his cheek to my hand. “I’m ready to celebrate.” His voice, while sounding upbeat, comes out a whisper.
“You and me both, Dad.” I lean against the seat and stare out the window, and my thoughts drift to Katie. I’m slowly learning to forgive myself, but I can’t get past the fact that I brought this upon all of us. A photo I took for class led me to discovering that it was Turner, my teacher, who kidnapped Katie. Everyone was beyond thrilled that she was back home, but the damage was already done. After watching Katie die three times I didn’t think I had tears left, but the sight of her small, white coffin surrounded by white lilies and roses, combined with the mournful music playing in the church and Cameron’s parents sobbing in the front row pulled on a reserve of tears I didn’t think existed. After the service, I mumbled out an “I’m sorry” for the hundredth time, then left the church and haven’t spoken to Cameron since.
I wipe my hand across the tears sliding down my face and study my fingertips in horror. They’re tingling.
I’ve been so wrapped up in the past that I’m not paying attention to where we are.
The sunlight filters through the trees too late to stop the effects.
Not when I’ve been drinking.
The tingling shoots down my legs to my toes, followed by the intense weight that nearly leaves me breathless.
What was I doing yesterday at this time? I think I was with Amelia and—oh crap!
Before I can grab Dad’s shoulder to alert him, the crushing heaviness strikes. I have a fleeting thought that I should record this for Martinez, but there’s no time. It’s coming too fast. The weightlessness sweeps through me and I’m floating, floating and—
—the steering wheel jerks under my hands, sending the car straight toward a giant tree on the side of the road while Amelia’s screams pierce through the fog in my head.
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