Paper Valentine

Are you waiting for someone to come and get you?” I whisper. I sound small and thirsty. He doesn’t answer. Instead, he bends his head and kisses me, just once, then let’s me go.
When Connor would kiss Angelie in the halls last spring, he did it like he was trying to suck the chocolate off the outside of a Klondike bar.
It could last for hours. This is more like seeing a star fall - thrilling and soundless and then over.

Because I was conceived and born and I grew up. I'm breathing and my heart is beating and as much as it hurts ? as much searing, monumental pain it causes me ? I have to exist.

Did you ever think about boys?' I say, staring up into the dark.
'There wasn't room,' she whispers, and her voice is unbelievably sad. 'At first, after Connor, I was just waiting. I was going to get a new boyfriend soon- as soon as I was prettier or better, more perfect. But after a while there was no room for anything else. If I though about kissing or sex, I just started feeling ugly, too awful for anything good.

Don't listen. Whatever they said, whatever they told you about yourself, it's not true.

Don’t you ever just have those days where even if you don’t really like someone, you might as well hang out with them because right then, it’s better than being alone?

Finny Boone is probably a sociopath. A big, lighter-stealing sociopath, but his eyes are steady and complicated.

For the first time in maybe my whole life, I feel dangerous and magical, like a dragon or a mermaid. A fury, standing there with my half-gone grape slush and my jaw clenched, ready for whatever comes next.

God, I hate her!” Kelly shouts as soon as Connor and his mom are out of the store. “How did that wretched, wretched woman ever even find someone to procreate with?

Her eyes are so wild and bright they almost look like stars.

how awful to never be allowed to fail

I’d laughed this high-pitched, witchy laugh, and looked right at him. Mostly, I remember feeling vital and untouchable, like I was free and separate from him. I would never be him, and because of that, I would never be lonely or laughed at, and I would never have to worry about anything.

I get out my hairbrush and wish for her—the real Lillian, and not the worst, most selfish parts of her. I wish for a warm, true best friend, one who didn’t die.

I'm thinking that my best friend killed herself so slow it was almost like a magic trick, and other people let her do it.

I never told her, but the Queen of Hearts charm always reminded me of her, even when she was alive. The way that all ways were Lillian’s ways, and how in the story the queen is unpredictable and kind of scary, but even when she throws a tantrum or threatens to cut off Alice’s head, she never really means it.

I walk the three blocks to the school slowly, like if I’m not careful of every step, every tiny movement, I will lose my grip on gravity and go flying up into the stratosphere.

Kissing him is like the wildest, most thrilling thing that has ever happened to me. It's like diving into the deep end over and over. He touches the curve of my lip with his tongue, just once, so softly, and I think the whole world is ending, the sudden warmth of his mouth jolting through me like a shock. I hold on like I'm falling off the top of a tall cliff or I'm lost at sea, like he's the only thing solid in the whole tilting world.

Lillian is humming to herself, stretched out on top of my bookcase like she doesn’t mind the heat, and of course she doesn’t. Even when she was alive, she could never seem to get warm. The tune she’s humming is thin and tight with anxiety. It’s the opposite of carefree.

Lillian laughs and rolls her eyes. “Do I look like I know the answer to that? I always just locked on to the target and then followed it all the way down.

Lillian was always so good at treating everything like a test, like some kind of game where the prize was shiny and untouchable. Perfection. She wanted me to back off, butt out, stop trying to control her life. And she wanted me to save her.

Our whole lives, it was like we were always trying so hard to be perfect - for our families and our friends, for each other - when the funny thing was, we didn't have to. In the end, we were better than that.

People do that sometimes. Change.

She bruised easily, in dark purple smudges like in blooming on tissue paper.

The fact is, the contest has always been invulnerability, and even when you win, you still lose.

The tone of his voice is like he expects a fight, like he’s challenging me to disagree, and I want to tell him that I don’t care one way or the other. That her blood-relative status makes no difference as long as she loves him. And she does. She wears it, beaming it around like a neon sign.

The way Lillian says it is hungry, like she’s waiting for something to be revealed, and I wonder if maybe that’s the real difference between us—that when she pulls back the curtain and stares into the blackness behind it, it’s just one more way of testing herself. Like some game you can never win, because even if you face all the shocking realities and the horrors of the world, once you’ve seen that kind of awfulness, you can never un-see it. You have to carry it around with you forever.

Thinking of this friend I had. This friend I loved and keep loving--dead, but never really gone.

Whatever they said, whatever they told you about yourself, it’s not true

Why are you here?
I'm here because this is where my Mom's family is from and after my parents got divorced, she kept the house. Because I was conceived and born and grew up. I'm breathing and my heart is beating and as much as it hurts—as much searing, monumental pain as it causes me—I have to exist.

Why?” I say, so quietly that it comes out sounding like a tiny, tired sigh.

“Nobody wants to be mediocre.” Her shadow on the ceiling is monstrous, a witch in profile.

You can't keep acting like this," Lillian says, and for the first time in months, it's like she's actually trying to be nice. "Tragedy isn't this evil thing that came from outer space. It's just there, you know. Along with everything else.