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What Happens Now
Author: Jennifer Castle


 

PROLOGUE

 


In the end, there were two Camden Armstrongs. One I watched for a whole summer of relentless craving. The other was the one I fell in love with.

During that first summer with that first Camden, I breathed wonder instead of oxygen. Wonder about what he carried on his broad but skinny shoulders, what made them square off on certain days and what made them sometimes sag. What it might feel like to sweep those nearly black bangs away from his face and get a peek at what was really going on there.

Once you start this type of wondering about someone, they’ve got you for sure. They own you in a way you can’t control. (As if you even wanted to.)

This was also the Camden who, when I closed my eyes alone at night, kissed me against a swing set at the lake playground. He’d hold me in the water while I floated on my back, his palms perfectly spanning the cutout of my bathing suit as if it were made to order for him. Sometimes this Camden-in-my-mind took me on drives to the Lenape Creek so we could dangle our legs off the wooden footbridge. Or he’d do something exquisitely regular, like buying me a road stand ice cream, and we’d eat it sitting on the hood of his car.

Good God. Those imaginary nights. It’s kind of amazing, how nostalgic you can feel for memories that never actually happened.

As for the other Camden?

I can tell you this much:

I know what it is to want something so badly, you feel like your cells aren’t properly bonded together without it. At any moment you might just crumble apart.

I also know what it’s like to get that something.

And honestly, I’m still not sure which is worse.

 

 

THE FIRST SUMMER

(OR, THIS THING THAT HAPPENED THAT I STILL DON’T REALLY UNDERSTAND)

 

 

1

 


My best friend, Kendall Parisi, waved her arms over a patch of rubbly grass near the edge of our town’s tiny swimming lake.

“I hereby declare this to be our spot for the summer,” she said.

It was Memorial Day weekend, and that meant the lake was finally open for the season. The lake had a name name that nobody used, a retired reservoir with a halfhearted beach, the water cloudy but cool. I’d grown up thinking we were lucky and special for having it, and still believed.

“And I declare it to be a good spot,” I said just as seriously, dropping my bag on it. Staking our claim.

The spot was under a tree, but not one of the more popular trees. Yes, there was actually popularity among the trees here. Some things about the lake were a little ridiculous, but that was part of why we loved it.

“I wish we could mark this with a flag,” said Kendall, unpacking a rolled-up towel.

“Or urine,” I said.

“You’re gross.”

I smiled wickedly and spread out my blanket on the spot, now officially our spot, and everything could begin.

We were almost done with my horrible sophomore year of high school, and the promise of summer sat on the tips of our tongues. It tasted like mint, and sunscreen, and that pleasantly disgusting sweetener in diet iced tea.

I’d be spending most of the next three months babysitting my six-year-old half sister, Danielle, while my mom finished nursing school. Kendall was going to work at Scoop-N-Putt, the ice cream/mini-golf place on Route 299, but she promised we’d still get to hang out at the lake most days. There was also my newly earned driver’s license all weighty in my wallet, a key card to a whole extra level of the world.

The perfection of these plans was something I could lay down and bask in. I pulled off my sandals, stretched out on the blanket, and closed my eyes. I felt the long sleeves of my rashguard top ride up, which meant they were no longer covering the three long, expertly straight lines on my left forearm.

It had been four months since that frigid night I’d cut myself on purpose. For the record, I hadn’t been trying to die but rather, to live; to find a way to breathe again. Four months was enough time to turn the scars brown, but not enough to fully understand them, and definitely not enough for me to let others get a look. I tugged my sleeves back toward my wrists.

Kendall wound up her long auburn hair in a bun and collapsed next to me. I could see-without-seeing that my friend was scanning the beach behind her mirrored sunglasses. “Ari, check it out,” she said after a few moments. “Maisie just walked in with Andrew. They must have made up after that fight at the prom.”

I lifted my head enough to seem like I was, indeed, checking it out. “Mmm.”

It was important to Kendall to know the Five Ws of journalism about people—the who, what, where, when, and why—and whether they applied to her, too. She used to write field guides to native North American wildlife as a hobby. Now she did this.

Kendall had been my best friend since sixth grade. My only close friend, you could say, if you wanted to be mean and specific about it. But she’d been all I needed when it came to the big things. She taught me how to put in a tampon—the normal way, not like the school nurse had shown us in health class, with one leg up like you were tying a shoe (yuck). When we started high school, Kendall joined the newspaper and urged me to check out Mock Trial. So, you know, we’d have some kind of life.

After I cut myself, Kendall visited me on every one of the five days I stayed home from school. I hadn’t been able to explain to her why I did what I did, or why I hadn’t asked her for help. She pretended she didn’t want to know. Things changed between us, after that.

I lay down again and shut my eyes. Secretly, I wanted to be reading my book, a vintage Silver Arrow novel I’d just bought online. I’d made the mistake of putting it in my bag and now the thought of it kept tugging at me. But Kendall didn’t get Silver Arrow—she didn’t get any sci-fi, especially not a TV series that aired before we were even born—and I wanted us to have a good time together.

We were both at the lake on opening day, as we’d always been and were supposed to be. As if it were etched on a Dead Sea scroll somewhere.

One type of antidepressants had made me sick but the second was working. I knew it was working because the sun right here on my face felt like every good thing that had happened to me plus all the other good things that hadn’t happened yet but would absolutely, definitely happen soon for sure.

Summer.

After a minute, Kendall whispered, “Who the hell is that?”

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