Page 6 of Before (After 5)

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He was life, the very definition of it. He was bright and warm and loved everything. Curtis could find joy in the most stupid, most simple things. I wasn’t like him. I was more cynical, especially after my mom left. But he listened to me every time my anger fueled a mistake. On his birthday he helped my dad clean up my mom’s painting room after I’d trashed it by splattering black paint across the precious paintings she’d left for us. He didn’t ask me why I wished her dead on more than one occasion.

He never judged me, and he held me together in a way that I couldn’t do myself. I always thought he would be the reason I made it through college or made any friends in a new city. I was never good at hiding what I thought of people, so it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world for me to make friends. He always told me it was fine, I was fine the way I was, that I was just too painfully honest and he would have to be the one who took the role of liar in our relationship. He would pretend to like the pretentious, sweater-tied-around-their-waists rich kids at our school. He was always the nice one, the one who everyone loved. I was his plus-one. We were together so much that everyone began to accept me and my attitude. He made up for it, I suppose, with his charm. He was my excuse to the world, because apparently he saw something in me. He was the only person who would ever accept me and love me, but then he left me, too. It was my fault, just like I’m sure my mom left because she was tired of that town, of my dad’s normalcy, and of her blond daughter with the bow in her hair.

The last ounce of my need to pretend to be normal was gone as the sink turned pink and my blond disappeared.

“I have a friend with some clout out west in Washington.”

I had almost forgotten where I was, my mind reliving every shitty experience in my life in less than ten minutes.

“I could ask him if he could pull some strings and get you into a good school there. It’s pretty out there. Refreshing, green. It’s late in the year now, but I will try it if you’re willing,” she offers.

Washington? What the hell is in Washington?

I consider her offer, mulling over whether or not I even want to go to college anymore. And as that question spins through me, I realize that I do want to get out of this God-awful town, so maybe I should agree. I used to think about other cities when I was younger. My mom talked about Los Angeles and how the weather made for a perfect day every single day. She talked of New York and the way the streets are full of people. She told me about the glamorous cities she wanted to live in. If she could handle those cities, I have to be able to handle Washington.

But it’s far, across the entire country. My dad would be alone here . . . though maybe that would be good for him. He barely has any friends anymore because he’s always so worried about me, trying to get me to be happy. He’s given up even attempting to worry about his own life. Maybe me going away to college would help him. Maybe it would restore some sense of normalcy.

It’s possible that I could make friends, too. My pink hair might not be so intimidating to people in a town with some sophistication. My revealing clothing might not be so threatening to the girls my age in another city.

I could start over and make Mrs. Garrett proud.

I could give Curtis something to be proud of, too.

Washington could be just what the witch doctor ordered.

And so sitting in this woman’s car, this kind mother to the boy I loved and lost, I vow, right now, that I’m going to do better.

I won’t take trains to shady parts of town in Washington.

I won’t wallow in the past.

I won’t give up on myself.

I’ll only do things that will help my future—and I won’t give a shit what anyone says along the way.


He underestimated the girl when he first met her. He didn’t know anything about her then, and still to this day he doesn’t really know much. He met her brother first and spent nights getting drunk with him, getting to know him and learning just what a terrible person the guy was. Her brother was a snake, slithering through the campus like it was his personal hunting ground, picking and choosing his prey.

But through constant observation he saw that this snake had one weakness: his sister, who was a force, tall with jet-black hair and tan skin. As he grew to hate the snake, he noticed just how tender this weakness was, how he would hover over the girl like there was nothing else on earth of importance—other than his own devious desires, of course. And convincing himself that the snake was getting out of hand, that he was spreading his filth like a proud pestilence that had to be stopped, the boy formed a plan.

This filth had to be knocked down, and his sister was nothing but a causality of war.

The house is so empty for a Friday night. My dad is at a banquet for his promotion at the hospital, and all of my friends are at another party. Neither option sounds appealing.

The party would be okay if it weren’t at the fraternity house my brother always hangs out at. I can’t even enjoy myself there because he’s so protective of me. It’s so frustrating.

The banquet may be a better option, but only marginally. My dad, the most prestigious doctor in this town, is a better doctor than parent . . . but he tries. His time is precious and expensive, and I can’t compete with sick people whose medical bills bought this massive house I’m currently sitting around complaining in.

Feeling a little guilty, I grab my phone to text my dad that I’m coming after all. Then, noticing it’s past nine, with the banquet having started at eight, I realize I’ll just be an interruption and give my dad’s young girlfriend more of a reason to complain about me. Tasha is only three years older than me and has been seeing my dad for over a year now. I would be a little more understanding if I hadn’t gone to high school with her and didn’t remember how bitchy she was. Or if she didn’t act like she doesn’t remember me even though I know damn well she does.

No matter how rude she is to me, I don’t complain to my dad about her. She makes him happy. She smiles when he looks at her. She laughs at his corny jokes. I know she doesn’t care about him the way she should, but I’ve seen my dad transform into a better version of himself since she came into his office with a broken finger and perky boobs. My dad took the divorce much harder than did my mom, who quickly revealed that she was moving back to Mexico to live with my grandparents until she got on her own feet.

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