Mama stayed there staring at me, and I could feel the disappointment in her stance. I hurried over to the dresser where Cheryl had left her lipstick, then handed it off to Mama.

She frowned. “She’s your sister, Maggie May, and she’s going to prom with Brooks. What do you think you’re doing?”

My head lowered.

I don’t know.

“I know Cheryl can be a handful at times, but…she’s your sister,” she repeated.

She left before I could write down any kind of response. She wouldn’t have read it, anyway. Mama was like Mrs. Boone in that way—she wanted actual words, not pieces of paper.

I headed over to my window and looked down at Brooks’ arms wrapped around Cheryl’s waist for the photos. He was giving the camera his best fake smile, and whenever he’d look up at my window, I’d step out of view.

It was a beautiful dream, he and I.

But that’s all it was.

A dream from which I was forced to wake.

“You bitch!” Cheryl screamed, barging into my bedroom as I changed into my pajama pants. My arms yanked my pants up and I stumbled backward, taken aback. Her mascara raced down her face with her tears and her red lipstick was smeared. The bottom of her dress looked as if it had been dragged through grass, and her eyes were wide. “I can’t believe you! I can’t fucking believe you told them!” she screamed.

I blinked once, confused. Told who what?

“Oh, don’t give me that innocent shit.” She laughed hysterically, and from her laughter, I could tell she was on something; her eyes were too wild to not be. “It’s actually ridiculous that anyone buys into the bullshit you push when really you’re a monster! I can’t believe you told Mom and Dad about what happened with Jordan yesterday!”

My lips parted, but no words came out, which pissed her off more. I hurried over to pick up a piece of paper and a pen, to write that I hadn’t told our parents, but she slapped it out of my hands.

“What the hell is wrong with you? Why the hell do you open your mouth if you’re not going to say anything? And what’s the point of writing on paper? That’s the same as talking, Maggie! Just use your fucking voice, freak!”

My body started trembling as her rage escalated. She headed for the walls of my bedroom and started knocking over all my perfectly-lined-up books. She threw them around the room, infuriated, and began ripping pages out of them. “How do you like that? Huh? How do you like someone screwing with your life, the way you screwed with mine?”

I’d never seen her so mad, so pissed off. “Dad showed up to prom and cussed Jordan out. I was fucking mortified. But that’s not all—no. Before I was embarrassed in front of the whole student body, I tried to kiss Brooks, and he said he couldn’t. You know why?” She laughed wickedly, picked up one of my novels and started ripping pages out. I rushed at her to try to stop her, but she was stronger than me. “Because he said he had feelings for you. For you! Can you believe that? Because I couldn’t. Why would anyone ever want you? What are you going to do? Date him and never leave the house? Are you going to have romantic dinners in the living room? Travel the world on the Discovery Channel in the living room? You’re not worthy of Brooks. You’re not worthy of shit.”

“Cheryl!” Daddy shouted, rushing upstairs. “Go to your room.”

“Are you kidding me? She gets to ruin my life and I’m the one who gets in trouble?”

“Cheryl,” Daddy growled. He never lost his temper. “Go to your room. Now. You’re drunk and high, and you’re going to regret what you did to your sister in the morning.”

“She’s not my sister,” Cheryl snapped back at Daddy before dropping the remaining pages of the novel in her grip. “I wish you had stayed lost in those woods.” She pushed past Daddy and hissed, “And you’re not my father.”

I saw it happen: a part of my father’s heart shattering.

He bent down to start picking up my novels, and I placed my hand on his arm to stop him.

He felt my shaking, and I felt his.

His fingers brushed against his temple and he let out a harsh breath. “Are you all right?”

I nodded slowly.

He shook his head. “Your mom found the note crumpled in Cheryl’s room. We told her that, but she was too drunk to comprehend anything. Brooks was already trying to get her to come home, but she stormed off with Jordan before we could get her to listen, and I guess she beat us home.” He took off his glasses, then pinched the bridge of his nose. “I should’ve driven home faster, then she couldn’t have taken her anger out on you, or destroyed your room like this.” His eyes watered. “Your books.”

I took his hand and squeezed it once. No. Not his fault.

“Let me help you clean up this mess.”

I squeezed his hand once more. No.

He gave me a broken smile and pulled me into a hug. He kissed my forehead and said, “The world keeps spinning because your heartbeats exist.”

I wanted to believe him, I did, but that night the world had crashed because of my heartbeats.

“Holy crap,” Brooks murmured, as he stood in my doorway later that night. His tie was hanging loosely around his shoulders and his hands were stuffed in the pockets of his slacks. I’d been sitting in the middle of my floor, surrounded by my novels and the torn pages. It was impossible to find the right pieces to go to the right stories.

They were all destroyed.

My eyes locked with Brooks’, and seeing the hurt in his eyes made me realize how bad everything actually looked. I was sitting in the middle of a puzzle of tales, and I hadn’t a clue how to connect the pieces.

He frowned. “Are you okay, Magnet?”

I shook my head.

“Can I come in?”

I nodded.

He walked around the books, tiptoeing to avoid stepping on any of their spines. “It’s not that bad.”


When he gasped, my stare fell to his hands, where he held my journal. “Oh no…” he said softly.

My emotions took over.

My to-do list—it was completely destroyed. Dozens and dozens of adventures I hoped to one day experience were ruined, and I couldn’t help but to burst into tears. I knew it seemed dramatic, but those books, those characters—they were my friends, my safe haven, my protection.