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September 6th, 2017

In the passenger seat of the beautiful Blake Lynch’s tiny blue Honda, the flakey sunset-colored leaves that drape below the sky above the highway launch me into my junior year of high school. It’s almost like the fast-moving traffic that always crowded outside Patapsco Ridge had doubled during the year I had spent learning the highlights of sophomore year. I had stuffed a public school ten months worth of trig, Mark Twain, the American Revolution and, cough cough snicker, forensic science in juvie.

I pled guilty.

Last year, the year of barely seeing the sun, didn’t have to exist. The only one that I had to set straight was the year before. Or accept that it would never be set straight, accept that it would always be a fuzzy blur of bad decisions and “trauma,” according to my father and new shrink. I’m not a criminal, I’m traumatized. And Darius Blecker deserved to die.

But I try not to think about it that much.

“You got everything?” Blake asks over the Alt Nation radio as he steers into the campus of King High School, glancing in the rearview mirror at my backpack filled with vacant binders and blank loose leaf paper.

I nod and grin, brushing my hand over my pocket for my replaced phone. It has the same number as the one lost in the river.

Blake’s changed since last year. His haircut is more mature, snipped away so it won’t cover his eyes. He’s been consumed with homework for his first year at BCCC and got a job at a bakery outside of King. He’d visited me during my Year of Barely Seeing the Sun about twice a month, increasing to three times a month toward the end of the year once my officer realized that he wasn’t my drug dealer.

He was just a friend. And ever since my arrest, I’ve grown to accept that. I’ve never been sure how to answer the, “What’s his motive?” Mom would question sometimes after he’d drop me off after having dinner at Friendly’s over the summer, because I knew it wasn’t a relationship. He was in college, discovering a whole new world, yet he chose to stay in Maryland, he chose to spend his weekends with a high school girl. I hate the word “closure” as much as the next girl, but I think that was it.

Last I’ve heard of Violet, she’d been shipped to a prison in Tennessee for women the minute she turned eighteen, sentenced to fifteen years without parole, but honestly I wasn’t sure if she was still alive. The shrink told my parents it’s best for me not to keep tabs on her. Blake and I didn’t talk about her much.

“Text me if you need anything, alright? My lecture ends at two, so can I pick you up at three?” Blake parks the car in the line of traffic and I unbuckle my seatbelt, remembering that learning to drive is on my long list of things to catch up on.

“Sure,” I say, sliding out of the car in the new sweater Mom had gotten me just to celebrate the first day of school, the first day back into society of kids my age. “Thanks. I’ll see you then.” I close the passenger door, slinging my backpack over my shoulder. I clutch my schedule for the year in my hand and head up the steps of the school.

I’m okay, I decide as I join the bustle of the hallway, noticing a few unnerving gazes circling my way. Samara didn’t get to see a junior year of high school but I did--I guess you can say I’m thankful.

I wander into my first period class, English. Above my desk labelled “HAYDEN OTLEY” there is a poster that reads in a sophisticated font, “Write what you know,” but the word “know” is crossed out with a single, thick line of passionate red. In a frantic scrawl it is replaced with, “FEEL.

I dig through my backpack, uncovering a composition notebook and setting it on my desk in front of me.

Getting caught in a lie is not what harms you. It’s facing the truth that eats you away.

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