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“Not really. Why?”

She shrugs. “Because your father and I have noticed a change in you. You seem to have more energy, and I actually caught you smiling when you came home from cheerleading practice yesterday. I haven’t seen you smile for weeks.”

Oh, yeah, I forgot to spill the news.

Here goes…

“I quit cheerleading,” I tell her.

“What?”

“Yeah. And before you go freaking out, it’s what I want. My body can’t do it anymore. I’m not really into it since, well, you know.”

Her brows furrow and she looks like she’s about to cry. “I’m so sorry, sweetie.”

“Stop saying that. I’m okay. I’ll be okay. I promise.”

Mom pats the top of my head. “Your dad and I have been worried about you. We know Trey’s death has hit you hard. I’m not going to lie and tell you we thought you’d end up marrying him, but we know you cared for him deeply.”

I nod. I did care for him, but I failed to care enough.

“Want me to drive you to school and pick you up?” she asks.

“No. Actually, I got an after-school job.” When I see her shocked face and know she’s going to drill me, I lie and add, “It’s a volunteer job. At the rehab center. I need the volunteer hours to graduate and, well, now that I’m not cheerleading I have the time to do it.”

“Oh. Okay.” She grabs her purse and keys. “If you need anything, just call me. I’ll expect a text from you letting me know when you’ll be home.” She raises a brow. “Okay?”

“Okay.”

“And if your body starts aching or they make you stand for more than an hour, tell them you need special accommodations due to your condition.”

“Got it. I’ll be fine, Mom,” I say, urging her out the door. “Don’t worry about me.”

“I always worry about you, sweetie,” she says.

That’s the problem.

I’m sick of people treating me like Trey or my illness defines me. Sure, for a long time Trey was a big part of my life… well, until he started cheating on me and using drugs to get himself through the day. I felt so alone when I was with him the past few months, it was as if we weren’t even friends. At first I hadn’t wanted to believe that our relationship was changing. The truth was he was changing and left me in the dust.

I need to get my mind off the guilt I’ve been feeling since Trey died. When I’m at the auto body shop, I forget about feeling guilty. I forget about being sad. I actually feel like I have a purpose.

Isabel doesn’t treat me like I’m fragile. She doesn’t care that I’m from Fremont or that I have a medical condition. I love that.

The fact that Vic is living upstairs just fuels a fire in me that had been missing. I haven’t felt that inner fire in a long time.

When I get to school, I head directly for the cheerleading coach’s office and officially inform her that I’m going to resign from the cheer squad. She doesn’t seem surprised or upset. Instead, she smiles and tells me in order to heal I need to concentrate on myself.

“I quit cheerleading,” I tell Ashtyn as we walk to first period together.

Her eyes go wide. “Seriously?”

I nod. “Yep.”

My best friend slows her pace and says, “Something’s up. I can tell.”

I look down at the books in my hand. “Nothing’s up. I just missed so much cheerleading practice, and things have been weird since Trey died. I needed to make a change.”

She looks at me sideways. “I worry about you.”

“That’s the problem.” I stop and tell her what’s on my mind. “I’m sick and tired of everyone worrying about me, Ash. It’s like I’ve got this cloud over my head, and everyone is trying to come in with an umbrella so the raindrops don’t get on me. I feel suffocated.” I look down. “I don’t expect you to understand.”

“It doesn’t matter if I understand it or not, Monika. I’ve asked you so many times why you’re always massaging your wrists, but you don’t tell me. You keep so much of yourself hidden from everyone, even me.” She shrugs. “If you want to be left alone, I’ll leave you alone. Just know I’m here when you need me. Always.”

I look into her eyes, and I can tell that she doesn’t hold any resentment.

“I love you,” I tell her.

She hugs me. “I love you too.” When she walks away, she shakes a finger in my direction. “But I’m warning you. I’m giving you space but not forever. In a couple of weeks, if I don’t hear from you, I’ll be camping out at your house, and you know how much I hate camping and bugs. I need my best friend back at some point.”

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