Page 49

Lina exhaled, making the flame on her candle jump. “It was four in the morning, and even though I’d known this was coming, I suddenly felt like it was all brand-new. Like the diagnosis and treatments and everything had just been some elaborate joke. My grandma was there—she was crying so hard, and my mom was hooked up to all these monitors. It was the first moment that I truly understood that I was going to lose her.” Tears were running down her face, but she didn’t bother to wipe them away. Ren slipped his hand onto her back. “But do you know what I remember most about that night?”

I shook my head, not trusting my voice.

“You. Less than ten minutes after I called you, you came running down the hallway to her room. All the nurses were yelling at you to stop, but you didn’t care—you just came running straight up to me. And you’d left your house so fast, you hadn’t even put on your shoes.” She paused, her eyes glittering. “That’s what I’ll always remember. You running barefoot down the hall, the nurses yelling as they chased after you. That’s who you really are, and I’ll never forget that when I needed you the most, you literally didn’t wait a single second. You just showed up.” She stepped forward, placing the rock at the base of the stump. “All hail Queen Maeve. My best and fastest friend.”

We were both crying, tears washing down our cheeks. I’d never considered that that terrible night could hold something other than just pain. Something that Lina would carry with her as a comfort.

“Me next.” Ren picked up a rock and stepped forward, squeezing Lina’s shoulder. “Has everyone tried Starbursts?”

The abrupt shift in subject made me laugh. There was some general nodding, most of it from outside our circle, and I kept my eyes on Ren, trying not to notice that the crowd was now three people deep. Lina had once confided in me that Ren had the kind of looks that grew on you—the longer you knew him, the cuter he got. I suddenly saw exactly what she meant.

He continued. “Well, I love Starbursts. Whenever I’m in the States, I eat them nonstop. And you know how there’s a social order to them? Like you dump out a bag and you eat all the pinks first, then the reds and oranges, leaving the yellows for when you’re really desperate?”

Where was he going with this? I glanced at Lina, but she just smiled.

“Anyway, the point is, Addie, you’re a pink. Everyone knows you’re a pink. Actually, scratch that. You’re next-level. You’re that limited-edition kind that had all pinks. And I know that because when Lina needed you, you were there.” He set his rock down. “All hail Queen Maeve. The pinkest of pink Starbursts.”

“Thanks, Ren,” I whispered. My body didn’t seem to know how to handle what was happening. Laugh? Cry? Enjoy? I was going to go with enjoy.

Next, Rowan stepped forward, his rock resting by his side. The stump made us almost eye-level, but he didn’t meet my gaze, and his nervousness wafted onto me. My heart began pounding even harder.

He exhaled. “Okay. Pink Starburst is always tough to follow, but here goes.” He rocked anxiously on his feet, a move that looked Ian-inspired. “Three days ago, I was sitting in my broken-down, crappy car when I saw this girl tackle her brother in a parking lot. I thought she was surprising. And different. So I talked her brother into letting her come with us, which ended up completely ruining her plans.” He looked up guiltily, shuffling his feet.

“But then the next three days were incredible, because I found out she was more than just feisty. She was smart. And loyal. And completely incapable of dressing weather-appropriate. And we talked about things I’d never talked about with anyone. And even when our car flooded, and we got chased by guard dogs . . . I just kept thinking, I wish this week would never end.”

He lifted his chin, looking me straight in the eye. “And I wanted to tell you that you don’t need that guy back home. You don’t need anyone, unless you want them. You’re enough all on your own. You’re more than enough. You’re Maeve.”

A warm, peaceful feeling settled on my shoulders, light as a second shawl. This was the thing that I’d lost track of this summer. That being chosen—or not chosen—was not the thing that made me valuable. I was valuable regardless. I was enough, all on my own. I wanted to climb down and rest my head on his shoulder, but instead I just ducked my head. “Thank you, Rowan,” I whispered.

“You’re welcome. All hail Queen Maeve.” He bent to lower the rock, softening his voice so only I could hear. “I wish I didn’t have to say good-bye to you tomorrow.”

“Me neither,” I whispered back.

Lina met my eye gleefully over the top of Rowan’s head, unable to contain her smile. I smiled back.

Rowan returned to his place, and Ian stepped forward, holding up his candle to his open notebook, a string of words marching across the page. He’d prepared something. I straightened up.

“You know that question Mr. Hummel likes to ask at the beginning of the semester? ‘If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’ ”

I nodded. It was one of those problems designed to make your brain run in circles.

His candle bobbed. “Well, the first time I heard that question it made me think of you. Because my whole life it’s felt like unless you were there—helping me blow out my birthday candles, cheering me on in the stands, out on our field trips—whatever I did didn’t actually matter. That it didn’t count. You’re the only person who knows my whole life—who’s been there with me through everything. Which makes you my life’s witness.” He lowered his notebook to his side. “So what’s the answer? If a tree falls in a forest and your little sister isn’t there to hear it, did it make a sound? I’m not really sure. I’m just glad we’re in the same forest.” He set his rock down, then stepped back with the others. “All hail Queen Maeve, my best and oldest friend.”

Tears puddled under my chin, and I stood looking at Ian, his eyes forming a shiny mirror, reflecting all the things he saw in me. Then one more voice chimed in, this one in my mind. What about you, buttercup? What do you see in yourself ?

I looked hard. I saw a lot of things: bravery, compassion, perseverance, insecurity, even fear. But rising out of all of it, I saw Maeve. Her hair shone, and she held a shield, her throne solid behind her. And suddenly it was me on the throne—my robe thick and soft around me.

The upcoming year was going to be hard, no doubt about it. And maybe even the year after it. But I was strong enough. And brave enough. I was Maeve, and I was going to make it.

I jumped off the stump and let my friends encircle me in a warm, tight cocoon.

Everyone who wasn’t already on the lawn in front of Titletrack’s stage was headed there, streaming from every possible crevice. It wasn’t just our main event—it was everyone’s main event.

A muffled, faraway noise sounded over a loudspeaker, instigating a dull roar from the crowd and making us all quicken our pace. Ian bounded ahead, his toga trailing in the mud. None of us had bothered to change out of our ceremonial garb; there wasn’t time. It actually made us fit in more with the rest of the festivalgoers.

“I’m going to find us a spot.” Ian disappeared into the crowd.

“I hope we can find him when we get there.” I held tightly to Rowan’s hand, partially to keep us from getting separated and partially because once the group hug had ended, it had just happened. I couldn’t get over the way our hands fit together. Like they’d been sitting on opposite ends of the globe just waiting for the chance to meet.

***

***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com

***