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I sit on my bed and I think. I think about all the times I have missed her. I think of all the pain I have gone through. I think of how much better it would be if she were still here.
I sit on my bed and I cry. I cry because I want her back. I cry because I need her. I cry because she needed me.
As guilt-ridden tears stream down my face, dripping away from my cloudy blue eyes, my body grows tired. Exhausted from too many sleepless nights of wondering.
I get up off my bed and wipe my face. I’m strong, I tell myself. I have to be. I walk into the bathroom and grope around the cabinet for the half-empty bottle of Advil that I’ve come to depend on. My head pounding, I stumble into the kitchen for a glass of water. The leaky tap drips, and I wonder if mom will ever get around to fixing it. I wonder if mom will ever get around to fixing anything in this pain-filled dump for a change. May as well go live with dad, there’s nothing keeping me here, I think to myself, then immediately hate myself for thinking it. Yes there is; Mom. If I leave, she’ll have no one. I need to stay and I need to be strong for her.
I gulp back the water and pills, wishing my never-ending headache would just leave me alone.
Walking down the hallway back to my room, I stop to look at the old family photo. I was eight, Jessica was eleven, and mom and dad were still together. Now, everything is different. I’m fourteen, mom and dad are divorced, and Jessica’s dead. And it’s my fault.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking who’s Jessica, why is she dead, and how is it my fault? Well, Jessica was my only sister. She was my best friend. She was the only person I could talk to… until she got killed in a hit and run five months ago. And how am I responsible? Well, that’s kind of hard to explain. I’m responsible because I killed her.
But you won’t understand, you couldn’t, unless I go back to the beginning. To when it all started.

Things were going pretty normal at school. My grades were fine, I still didn’t have any friends (except for Larissa, who only talked to me because we were both vegetarians,) and I was staying out of trouble. Life was carrying on as usual.
But one November day, I remember it was a cold day, there was a new kid in school. Ryan Montana. He was tall, really tall, with messy black hair and deep, troubled brown eyes that drew you in and wouldn’t let you look away. I can even remember what he was wearing: a black t-shirt with the name of some punk rock band I’d never heard of posted on the front, scruffy jeans, a spiked belt, and lots of rings. He was hot, and I was immediately smitten. But how could I, Samantha Kraft, the geekiest grade eight in Ridgemont High, catch the attention of the new guy in grade eleven? I was out of my league, so I decided to not even try.
At lunch that day, the day he came to our school, I took my cucumber sandwich and two percent milk into the girls’ washroom to eat alone. At least in there, I wouldn’t have any spoiled blonde barbies whispering about me three tables away, while I chewed on soggy bread and old cucumbers.
I must have lost track of time, because I found myself rushing to science long after the bell rang. As I stepped into class, Mr. Burns frowned at me.
“You’re late, Sam,” He said, shaking his head.
“Yeah, sorry, I must’ve lost track of time,” I replied to him lamely, wishing the ground would swallow me whole. The entire class was staring at me with a glare that could melt glass. I was terrified.
“It’s detention for you, I’m sorry to say. Now take your seat and get to work.” Mr. Burns turned to the board and continued his lesson.
I sighed and tiptoed to my seat in the back corner of the room next to the chemical cabinet. My seat always smelled like chlorine, but I didn’t care. Having a guaranteed seat behind everyone, away from leering eyes, that was worth smelling like dead animals.
The rest of the day was uneventful. As I sat in class, watching the clock tick away, I counted the seconds until school was out. It was as if the clock slowed down every time I looked up. As if it was scared I would catch it going too fast, and time froze and everything stopped, until I looked away from the mocking hands of the giant timekeeper.
Finally, to my utter relief, the final bell rang and I could go and get detention over and done with as fast and painlessly as possible.
I walked into the detention room, automatically searching for the most isolated seat in the ugly, gray, next-to-empty hole. And there he was. Ryan Montana. Sitting at the very back of the classroom, alone in a corner.
I quietly walked over to a seat near him, letting my long dark hair slip from behind my ear and hide my face. As I sat down, I could feel two eyes staring at the side of my head. My heart pounded; my mind raced.
“I’m Ryan.”
I looked over and he was beaming at me, his brown eyes twinkling. I couldn’t help but smile back.
“I’m Sam,” I replied.
The conversation was ordinary; average; regular - whatever you want to call it. But to me, it was heaven. I was stepping outside my world and finally becoming someone that somebody else recognized. It was talking to a person who wasn’t talking to me because they felt sorry for me. It was great, and I loved every second of it.
I went home that day on a cloud. No one could touch me. No one could bring me back down to earth. I felt like I was dreaming. Ryan Montana had talked to me - actually talked to me. I was in a state of bliss… until I opened to door to my home sweet home.
I walked through the doorway to my house entrance, and trudged up the stairs, trying not to let on that my day had gone any differently than always. It had been raining outside, the perfect end to another horrific school day.
“Jess, I’m home,” I called to my sister. She was in the kitchen getting a snack, and I could tell as soon as I walked in that she was in a bad mood.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, half paying attention and half swimming in my own thoughts inside my head. I opened the fridge, hauled out the orange juice and set it down on the counter. I could hear the rain tickle the windows, making them shiver and giggle. I felt warm inside.
“I’m just peeved at this new kid in my math class. He always talks back to the teacher and thinks he’s God’s gift to the human race. I really don’t like him at all,” She explained, sitting down at the kitchen table and stuffing her face full of popcorn.
“Mhmm, what’s his name?” I asked, I yanking a blue plastic cup from the cupboard. It was worn and somewhat cracked, and the little silver swans encircling the rim had faded to a dull gray. I still wasn’t paying much attention to Jess. I was still swimming in my own thoughts.
“Ryan Montana.”
I stopped swimming.
I couldn’t believe it. My sister hated the boy of my dreams. I almost cried.
“Um, Sam, are you okay?” She asked me, practically reading my mind. She took another fistful of extra-buttered popcorn and crammed it into her mouth.
OF COURSE IM NOT OKAY! I wanted to scream. MY LIFE IS RUINED! But instead, I shook my head.
“I’m fine,” I sighed, and trudged down the hallway to my room, this time not caring who knew how my day had been.
That night, as mom called me down for dinner, I could smell the sharp, bitter aroma of garlic and parmesan, the tangy scent of lemon juice, and the flat, fishy stench of anchovy paste. Ceaser dressing.
“Mom, did you make ceaser salad?” I asked with anticipation. Ceaser salad has, and always will be, the one meal that my mom could cook properly.
“Maybe,” she said slyly. I laughed. Of course she did.
I walked down the stairs and turned left into the kitchen, and the most beautiful sight came to my eyes. The table was set for three, with special dinner napkins and wine glasses filled with milk. A bowl the size of a car tire was set in the center of the table, filled to the brim with bright romaine lettuce and croutons. I smiled despite my bad mood – mom really made an effort tonight.
I sat down at the table and Jessica walked in the room.
“Mom, do you think you could – “ She stopped mid-sentence, smiled, and sat down. She knew as well as I did that these nights were uncommon, these family dinners. We both smiled as mom sat down to join us and asked us how our days were. We smiled despite the rain, the ruined love life, the arrogant classmates; we smiled because we loved our mom and what little family we had left… and we treasured it. These nights, these dinners, mom’s ceaser salad – it was all a reminder, a flawless touch of hope that we were still, through it all, a family. And Jess, through it all, was my sister.

I look away from the photo and continue the walk to my room. Remembering hurts too much. But every time I look at a photo, or just flip through a TV show we used to watch together, I remember. I can’t help it. That’s why mom doesn’t make Ceaser Salad anymore. It used to be Jessica’s favorite meal. Now, only a painful memory of the many nights we spent laughing together as a happy family. A reminder telling me that she’s dead. Because of me. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat it again. Not until I come to peace with what I’ve done to my family.

I woke up the next morning, with my lingering dream still drifting in my head. I smiled, remembering my encounter with Ryan. Then immediately frowned, remembering the one with my sister after school. Why isn’t life fair? I remember thinking to myself. Funny thing is, I had no idea what was coming.
Ryan and I became very close. And the closer we became, the more I liked him… and the more he liked me. Obviously my sister wouldn’t have approved, but I didn’t pay any mind to my sister. All I cared about was how lucky I was to be with Ryan. So regardless of how close my sister and I were, I kept seeing him. I simply didn’t tell anyone. It was pretty easy, considering I didn’t have anyone to tell, except Jess - the one person I told everything too. And now I was hiding a huge secret from her. How ironic life can be.
I hated lying to her, but what other choice did I have? Tell her about Ryan and have her mad at me? Nope, not an option. It was our secret, Ryan and I, and sometimes I thought maybe he liked it better that way.
I came home from Ryan’s house on a cold, wet Thursday to find Jess sitting on the couch. She was watching TV, and when I walked up the stairs she turned it off and called me over to the couch. I sat down, waiting for her to say something, but she just sat there.
“Um, Jess,” I started. “Are you okay?”
“Sit down.” Her voice was firm, and I was apprehensive, but I sat down anyway.
She proceeded to tell me how much she loved me and that lately my grades had been slipping and she was worried about me. That lately, she had noticed I’d been spacey. I think about it now, and she was right.
“I’ve just been busy with stuff,” I sputtered. God I hated lying. Jessica glared at me. Then she started screaming.
“It’s Ryan, isn’t it? People have been telling me about you two, Sam. You really need to think about this. Is an older guy really what you need right now?”
I became angry, fast. Who was she to butt in on my business? My life? I started yelling right back. Before that day, we had never so much as raised our voices at each other; now we were yelling and screaming like angry hyenas. What had happened to us?
Mom came in. She started on about how she needed peace and quiet because she was trying to work.
“Ever since dad left, this house has been a hell hole!” I hollered in all my anger. Jessica and mom stared at me with blank expressions. Mom burst into tears, rushed down the hall with heaving shoulders, and slammed her bedroom door behind her. Jessica shot an angry stare my way and hurried after mom.
I felt sick to my stomach.
The next few weeks were like that. I never wanted to come home from school, because I was didn’t want to see mom cry again, and I definitely didn't want to go through another fight with Jessica.
I spent more and more time with Ryan. During school, after school, on weekends - I even skipped classes a few times just to be with him. Every spare moment I had was spent with Ryan. And my family hated it. Not my dad of course, he didn’t care about anything that was happening in my life. All he cared about was his cars and his girlfriends. But I didn’t need him. I didn’t need my mom either. The only person I did need was the one person that didn’t seem to need me anymore. Jessica.

I push open my bedroom door and waltz in as if I don’t have a care in the world. Doing that helps sometimes. Pretending that everything’s all right, that everything’s fine and that Jessica’s still alive – that helps me sometimes.
I walk to my big, next-to-empty closet and open the french doors, savoring the small gust of wind that swooshes past whenever someone open doors like such. I do that a lot nowadays, savor the little things - the so-called unimportant moments that pass you by without a second thought. Like sitting on the couch after school doing homework with Jess, or watching TV with Jess… or, well, anything with Jess, really. Anything with Jess.

“What are you doing after school today?” Ryan leaned over and whispered into my ear. We were playing hooky in the back of the school, on the bleachers near the track field. I was sitting on his lap, eating a bag of chips.
“What else?” I replied smartly. “Hanging out with you, obv.”
“Good. ‘Cause I have something planned.”
I turned around to face him, and he was smirking at me with a twinkle in his eye and a gleam in his smile. I giggled.
“Like what, exactly?” I asked sarcastically. I loved his little surprises. I knew he wouldn’t tell me of course, but I loved the suspense.
“Oh, you’ll see. Just make sure you meet me in front of the school right after class, ‘kay?”
“Okay,” I said, turning around again and leaning back, smiling.
I went home that day to find Jessica and mom in another fight. When were they not?
“I need you to be around more, Jessica. You need to take care of the house and Sam. You have responsibilities that come before your social life,” My mom barked at Jess.
“Why can’t Sam ever stay home? Why does she get to stay out every day with that jerk Ryan? WHY?” Jessica screamed back, tears streaming down her face. And then, like an idiot, I got involved.
“What do you expect mom to do, huh? You expect her to drop everything and beg dad to come back to us? Well reality check, Jess, that’s not gonna happen. Seventeen is old enough to realize that dad left us and isn’t coming back, so why can’t you act your age?” I stepped into the kitchen and slapped Jess across the face. “Snap out of it, and don’t talk to mom like that. She tries hard enough to get by without us screaming at her,” I yelled. I could see Jessica trying to hide her pain, but I knew I had hurt her. The slap was nothing in comparison to the damage I had done. Jess was trying to deal with dad’s leaving in her own time. And I had just completely blown it in her face. Good job, Sam.
I ran out of the kitchen and into my room, my shoulders wracking with sobs. What had I done to my family? What was wrong with me? My relationship with Ryan was what was tearing my family apart. I needed to end it with Ryan in order to set things right again. It was up to me.

I grasp a small shoebox from the top shelf of my closet and carefully heave it down into my arms, where it’s safe from dust and grime. I sweep the top of the lid with my hand, shooing the dirt away from its precious cover.
In the box are all my memories of Jess. All our pictures, our stories that we used to write together as kids, all our love that had seemed to slip away before. But there they were, right there in that box, all of my precious mementos that had kept me sane every night after her death.
I grab the box and hurl it at the wall.

“You ready to go?” Ryan asked me, leaning against his truck with his arms outstretched, ready for a hug.
“Um, Ryan, I have to talk to you,” I said, ignoring his gesture and walking past him. I averted his eyes, not wanting to get swallowed up in their devastating sweetness.
“Sure thing, babe. Just get in the car and talk as we go.”
I hesitated.
“’Kay” I said. I climbed into his old Chevy and he started the engine, cursing as it coughed and sputtered in protest.
We began to drive, and he turned on the radio to his favorite station. Nirvana blasted through the beat up old truck, and I could feel my seat vibrating underneath me. I switched it off.
“I said I have to talk to you,” I said firmly. He looked at me, puzzled.
“Okay, Sam. Talk.”
“Well, lately my family has been really screwed up, and I…” I didn’t get a chance to finish. He cut me off.
“Yah, I know. Your sister always comes to class looking pretty beat-down and tired – pretty horrible way to look, actually. And she’s always in the worst mood… I can only imagine how she is at home,” He chuckled. That got me mad.
“Hey Ryan, shut up! Yea, my family’s screwed up. And you know why? Because of you. Ever since you came around, my family has been crap. Total, complete crap. And I’m ending it here. It was either you or Jessica. Wanna know what my choice was? Guess!” I was fuming. I didn’t even know what I was saying. I was being a total brat, waving my hand in front of his face and screaming in his ear. He slammed on the brakes, and I lurched forward, almost hitting my head on the dashboard. I thought I felt the old Chevy bump something, but I ignored it.
“Heh?” he grunted to no one in particular. Even though he was trying to hide it, I could tell he was upset.
I took a deep breath, letting it flow through my chest and my stomach before releasing it.
“It’s over,” I murmured.
He stared ahead, eyes wide and breathing heavy.
“Are you gonna be okay?” I asked him. I had been kind of harsh. Wait, who was I kidding? I had been totally harsh. I began to feel really bad about blowing up on him.
“No, shut up,” He answered, practically whispering. He had an alarmed look on his face.
“What?” I asked, taken aback. Okay, maybe I hadn’t been so mean. Uh, hello, can you say RUDE?
“Sssh! Listen! Did you hear that?” He motioned for me to be quiet. I listened.
“No,” I said. What the hell was he talking about?
He slowly unbuckled his seatbelt and reached for the door handle.
“What are you doing?” I asked him, but he shushed me and put his finger to his mouth. I could hear cars honking at us to move. He carefully opened the door and peeked out in front of the truck.
He froze.
Jumping back in the car, he slammed the door and drove away recklessly fast.
“What the hell was that about?” I asked him. He didn’t answer me. I looked back through the rear window. Lying on the road was a body. I screamed.

Sobbing, I pick up my trashcan from the corner of my room and throw it into the window. The glass shatters everywhere. I pace around my room, picking up everything and anything I can find and throw it at my walls, my windows, my door. I hate my life, I hate myself, I hate God. Why did he take Jessica away from me? Why did he let me take Jessica away from everyone? I throw more things from off my dresser. I collapse onto my bed and break into a fit of uncontrollable sobbing, pounding my fists into my mattress and screaming into my pillow.

Everything after that was a blur. The police coming to our house, mom crying on my shoulder, dad shaking his head at me. I felt dead inside. I had killed my sister. My only sister. It was all my fault. If it hadn’t been for me, this never would have happened. If I had gotten to class on time, I wouldn’t have had detention, I wouldn’t have met Ryan, and Jessica would be alive.
I didn’t go to school for weeks. How could I face everyone at school when they knew what I had done? I was ashamed. And I hated myself for feeling sad. I shouldn’t feel sad, I told myself. I should feel dead. I should feel nothing. Salty tears stung my eyes every minute of every hour of every day for what seemed like forever.
It wasn’t enough to stop speaking to Ryan. It wasn’t enough to not go to school. I had to do something; I wanted her back. I wanted to give Jess her life back. And if I couldn’t do that, I wanted to take mine away.
Every time I tried, I was unsuccessful. My mom would discover me and take immediate action. At the time I hated her for it. Why couldn’t she just let me go? Let me punish myself for what I had done to her favorite daughter? I guess losing one was hard enough, she didn’t want to lose another. Even if I did deserve it.
I went through weeks of therapy. It took me a long time to realize that Jessica’s death was not something I could fix by bringing it upon myself. I had to come to terms with my guilt and own up to what I had done, instead of trying to run from the life I had created for myself, and taken away from my sister. I needed to release myself from all the pain I was wrapped up in. I needed to put things right.

I wake up and I look at my clock. It says 11:38. I have to get up. There’s a hearing today, and Ryan has to testify. I might have to as well.
I get up off my bed and trudge into the kitchen, pouring myself a bowl of cereal. Grabbing the milk from the fridge, I notice mom traipse into the kitchen wearing her bunny slippers.
“I’m going grocery shopping today, baby. Is there anything you want me to get?”
I nod.
“Garlic, lemon juice, and anchovy paste,” I say casually with a small smile on my lips. Mom stops and smiles at me.
“For ceaser salad? That was Jessica’s favorite,” she says.
“I know mom,” I say. “Mine too.”

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