For my wonderful family.

chapter one

When I am silent, I have thunder hidden inside.

~ Rumi


I’m standing in the bathroom of the biggest party off campus, but I don’t have to pee. I grip the edge of the counter and try not to hyperventilate. I gasp for air, but all I can manage are a few shallow breaths. It’s like my brain knows I want to scream, but it won’t let me take a deep enough breath to make a fool of myself.

Don’t cry. Don’t freak out. It’ll only make things worse.

I can vaguely hear my old therapist admonishing me to change my affirmations from negative to positive, but right now, under these circumstances, that’s totally impossible.

Pinching my eyes shut, I drop down in front of the sink cabinet and tap my head against the wood. Not hard, but hard enough. I’m hoping it’ll help me think of what to do.

One. Two. Three.

The wimpy part of my personality wants me to climb inside the tiny space under the sink, fold my head to my knees, and wrap my arms around my shins.

I want to hide. Disappear.

The new me, the person I’ve sewn together with the parts I want to be, is unraveling at the seams, the threads joining them suddenly weak and brittle. I read this dystopian book once where people were actually constructed from parts of others who were unwound. That’s me right now. A disjointed, incomplete person. Take a piece away—I won’t notice. Take two. It doesn’t matter.

Classic heavy metal blares from downstairs and rattles the floor beneath me. The front door slams over and over as more students come and go. There’s talking, lots of laughing.

They’re the kind of people who don’t have a bunch of shadows hiding inside them. People who can have fun. People whose only challenge on a Friday night is what to wear to an eighties theme party.

If only that were me.

I may look like I belong with them, but deep down inside, I don’t. They don’t live with secrets and forgotten memories like I do.

My shoulders feel heavier than they did before. I tighten my hold on the countertop to keep from falling backward on my butt.

Come on, Ivy. Get a grip. You can’t stay here all night.

For the first time since coming into the bathroom, I notice that the toilet seat and lid are up. I’ve always had this irrational fear that I, my cell phone, or my keys will somehow fall into a toilet bowl if it’s open. I force myself to stand, reach over with my foot, and kick it down.

The noise jolts me, and I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror.

My reddish-brown hair hangs in limp waves past my shoulders, the corkscrew curls all but gone now. Twin tracks of mascara are running down my cheeks. I don’t recall actually crying, but it’s obvious I have been. How long have I been in here, anyway?

I turn on the faucet to wash my hands and splash my face with water. Maybe that will help.

My stomach clenches with revulsion when I see the only towel in the room. It’s dirty and hangs crookedly on the rack over the toilet, limp and damp from use. Soap scum coats the sink and drain, even though you can tell someone tried to wipe it off with something. Probably that towel. A bar of Irish Spring sits in a waterlogged soap dish with—um, sick—a curly black pube clinging to the top.

No splashing my face with water. I turn off the faucet.

Someone pounds on the door and I jump. My gaze darts to the latch below the knob. Should it be turned to the left or the right? I did lock it, didn’t I? The crystal knob rattles, but the door doesn’t open. It’s still locked.

I breathe a sigh of relief.

“Come on. Hurry up.” It’s a guy, but I’m pretty sure it’s not him.

I don’t answer. Maybe he’ll go away. I need more time.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do. Not when part of the past I thought I’d left behind is playing quarters in the next room.

At first I couldn’t figure out why he looked so familiar. It took me two, maybe three seconds to figure it out. He's taller. More filled out than the last time I saw him. And he has a bushy beard that he didn’t have before. But I guess that makes sense. Lincoln Falls High has this tradition where all the senior guys who play a sport grow facial hair. Or, I should say, they try to grow facial hair. Some of them shave it off at the end of the season (thank God, because I hate beards), while others keep it all year long and look like the Duck Dynasty dudes in their Senior Prom pictures.

Maybe I can leave without him seeing me. I’ll open the door and hustle past the room where I saw him. My hair is long and thick enough that if I pull it over one shoulder and lean forward slightly, it’ll cover the whole side of my face like a curtain. If I’m lucky, I can be outside in like, twenty seconds, and then I’ll text Cassidy that I want to leave.

My heart rate has dropped from the about-to-have-a-heart-attack-and-die mode to just the really-freaked-out mode. Taking a deep breath, I reach for the door handle. My palms are sweaty, so I wipe them on my jeans and notice the teal polish on my toes.

Crap. Cassidy convinced me to wear these three-inch heels tonight because, paired with my skinny jeans and this cute teal H&M top I borrowed from her, I looked hot. (Those are her words, not mine.) Now I’m regretting that I let my vanity listen to her, because I won’t be able to run very easily. I slip them off and hook one finger under the back straps. Standing on my tiptoes, I try not to think about the skanky tile floor touching my newly pedicured bare feet.

Someone pounds on the door again. “Hey, Rickmeister, do you have a key? I think some chick’s in here getting sick.”

I just about jump out of my skin. And my bladder shrinks. I’m not saying I pee my pants, but I almost do.

“No fucking way,” another male voice answers. “Not another one.”

There’s more pounding and the door handle rattles again. My heart is seriously about to leap out of my chest right now. I take a step backward. The countertop presses into my butt.

“Hey, you in there, unlock the door.” This is a different voice. Which means there are at least three of them. There’s probably a crowd forming.

There is no way in hell I can go out there now. Everyone will be looking to see who locked herself in the bathroom and possibly puked her guts out. And by everyone, I mean him.

What are the chances that Chase’s brother Aaron would show up at PSU? And why now—just when I was really feeling like my life was getting back on track, and my past was in the rearview mirror?

But maybe what I’ve put together here is just a joke. A house of cards, ready to topple over in a light breeze.

No one from Lincoln Falls goes to school here. That’s one of the main reasons I picked PSU. He’d better not be a current student here. Surely I’d have seen him before now, right? Plus, my mom would’ve heard that Aaron was here and told me. Wouldn’t she?

But then, if she thought it would lead to another so-called meltdown, maybe she’d just say nothing and hope it wouldn’t come up. She’s always had a close personal relationship with her friends Denial and Avoidance.

I glance desperately around the room, looking for some options. The shower curtain is clear, so it’s not like I can pull it closed and hide in the tub. Which, if I’m being truthful, is a stupid idea anyway. Speaking of stupid ideas, there’s a door that I’m pretty sure is a closet, but I open it anyway.

Yep. A closet. Full of shelves. Nowhere to hide.

The window above the toilet is open a few inches and doesn’t have a screen. But more important, if I stand on the toilet lid, I’m pretty sure I can pull myself up and climb through. It occurs to me that this is an old house and windows in old houses are notoriously sticky.

I push on it. The window slides open easily without even squeaking.

If that’s not a sign I’m meant to do this, I don’t know what is. I mouth a silent prayer of thanks.

A blast of frigidly cold ocean air hits me in the face. Not realizing I’d been holding my breath, I let it out slowly, inhaling and exhaling a few more times. I feel slightly less trapped.

But now what? It’s dark and I can’t see much. I could step out and literally fall to my death.

And then I remember seeing guys on the roof when we came to the Christmas party here last month. Two of them were singing carols with a megaphone, while others threw beads and hard candy, like they were on a parade float. A piece hit me in the shoulder when a few of us were walking around outside. I hesitated, because I’m a serious candy freak, but kept walking when I realized it was butterscotch. I hate butterscotch.

To make a long story short, the roof has a lot of flat parts.

Careful not to touch the towel, I step onto the toilet. If half-wasted guys dressed like nuns and priests can walk on the roof of this house, surely it can’t be that hard.

* * *

Two hours earlier…

When things don’t go the way you planned, something needs to change. Hoping a situation will magically get better without doing anything different has gotten me into a lot of trouble. I once heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. Let’s just say I’ve had my share of mental health “issues,” so I’m sensitive to stuff like this.