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“Temperatures almost hit the 90’s today,” the weatherman said with amazement. “Watch out. This summer’s gonna be a killer.” The muggy June light was filtering through the clouds in heat-laden waves, leaving Ange breathless on the steps outside the high school. Cars shot by her with the windows rolled down, blasting tinny music, the men whistling at her as they went by. The signs of stores flickered in the dirty windows – open. Everything was open this evening. There was a kind of serenity to the street, the predictability of the traffic lights, the loudness of the scene, all bathed in the fading amber light. At least, that was what Ange told herself as she wiped sweat off her forehead. They were supposed to get here soon, but it was a hot night. She’d been waiting for far too long.
The high school front door suddenly banged open behind her, breaking whatever peace Ange had managed to get out of the moment. She turned to see who it was. Blond hair in a high ponytail, a prim skirt and sandals with jewels on the toes. An expression that meant Ange had done something wrong as usual. “Hey,” Ange said, barely hiding her annoyance. “What’s up?”
“It’s Leah,” she said. “Your best friend, remember?”
“How could I ever forget,” Ange said dully.
“Where have you been?” Leah yelled. “Why aren’t you at the student council meeting? It’s at 6! You were supposed to be in there ten minutes ago!”
“Something else came up,” Ange said, already tired of the conversation. “I’m – ”
“This isn’t just any meeting, Ange! We’re meeting with the heads of the dance committee! We’re deciding on what color streamers to use at the end-of-year dance! I’ve been setting this up for weeks!”
“Sorry.” She played with a stray hair absentmindedly, then smoothed it back over her shoulders, the rest of her hair falling down her back in golden-brown waves. “I seriously can’t be there right now.”
Leah paused in disbelief. “This better be a joke, Ange. Everyone’s waiting for me. You said you would be at this meeting.”
“It’s Friday and school’s out in a week,” said Ange. “I’ve got other plans.” Then she saw them across the street, her brother Ian and his friends, walking along like they owned the city. She could hear Gage telling Ian about the “sick new silencers” he’d bought for his truck.
“There they are,” Ange said. “Finally.”
“Who?” Leah said, on the verge of hysteria. “Ange, you’re not actually leaving.”
“Sorry, hun,” she said, standing up and brushing herself off. “I can’t get to everything.” She jumped off the last step onto the sidewalk, glancing backward once at Leah standing there in her best outfit, her perfect ponytail blowing into her face, and tried to smile at her. Then she saw a break in the traffic and ran across the street. Leah would get over herself. Every once and a while, you had to have some fun.
“Angie,” said Ian as she walked up to them. “What took you so long? We’ve been around for a while.”
“I couldn’t get a ride, so I was stuck at the school for an hour,” Ange said. “It was a great time.”
“Aww, she doesn’t even have her license yet!” Gage grinned to the rest of the group. “Look how bad she wanted to hang out with us!”
“Don’t flatter yourself,” she said. “I’m just thirsty. Where are our drinks?”
“See, that’s the thing,” said her brother, his brown hair falling into his eyes, leaning on Gage in that way he had of making everything look effortless. “We don’t have any money, thanks to the girls.”
“You bought us the drinks,” said Taylor, shaking her long hair out of her face. “If you weren’t trying so hard to pick up girls then maybe – ”
“Let’s walk to the park,” Gage interrupted, obviously not liking the way the conversation was going. The girls were already walking, Taylor and another girl whose name she didn’t know, with long black hair and eyeliner so thick Ange wondered how she could see. “So tell us, Ange,” Gage said, suddenly leaning towards her and smiling endearingly. Ange felt a smile creeping onto her face too and immediately wanted to slap herself. Be cool. Be cool. “Tell you what?”
Gage leaned in even closer to her. She could suddenly smell his breath, toothpaste tinged with a lot of beer. He looked into her eyes. “Tell us why…”
“Why what,” she said softly.
“Why it is so effing hot out here right now,” he yelled, leaning back to bump fists with Ian. Taylor started laughing knowingly. “She totally thought you were going for it.”
“Yeah, right,” giggled Gage. “Like I would go for a sophomore. Hate to break it to you, honey, but you’re not really my style.”
Ian pulled a face next to Gage, like he was sorry his friends were treating her like this, but Ange didn’t want his sympathy. She felt the heat on her face, knowing she was blushing. “Don’t be a jerk.”
“It’s called honesty,” Gage said. “Deal with it.” He pulled out his phone and started texting.
“Are we gonna do something at the park, or what? I waited at the high school for a freaking hour,” Ange said. “I thought this would be fun.”
“You really need to lighten up,” said the black-haired girl, the first time Ange had seen her open her mouth all afternoon.
“I don’t even know you,” said Ange.
“Well, you should,” said the girl with an infinitely condescending smile, but before she could say anything else, Ian cut her off. “Ange,” he said quickly, “how about you get us some drinks?”
“We don’t have any money,” she said, stating what she thought was obvious. “You guys were literally just arguing about it.”
“So?” said Gage, catching on. “There’s a 7-eleven right across the street.”
“We don’t have money.”
“They have these six-packs right by the door,” Taylor said. “Heineken. The best.”
“Wait,” said Ange, “you want me to…want me to…”
“We do it all the time,” said Ian. “Just grab a few and go. No one will notice.”
They had everyone’s attention now. Ange could feel their eyes on her, Gage’s cold stare, Taylor looking bored, and the black-haired girl’s eyes suddenly piercing her with such intensity Ange had to look away. There was a challenge in those eyes, and even though she didn’t like the girl, Ange found herself wanting to meet her challenge. Wanting to prove that she deserved to be here, that she wasn’t just Ian’s annoying baby sister, was more than the desperate girl she must have seemed like waiting at the high school for an hour just for them. That she wasn’t a little kid anymore. She was interesting. She could make things interesting. She would.
“Well?” Taylor said impatiently. Ange took in her sleek blond hair, her sparkling eyes, then let her eyes wander again, to Gage’s chiseled jawline, that smile he had that said, I have it all. She knew that smile better than she knew her own. Knew it from countless summer evenings, when he and Ian would come in from playing football and she’d bring them cold lemonade. Knew it from her first day of kindergarten, when a kid laughed at her for wearing glasses and Gage came over and punched the kid in the face. “How did you even know him?” her friends had asked her afterwards. “Isn’t he in third grade?” Ange had just shrugged, as amazed as they were, watching Gage waving to his friends as he got carted off to the principal’s office. She remembered walking home with Ian after school, telling her about what had happened next. “He came back from the office and was laughing,” Ian had said, with the same barely-noticeable note of awe in his voice that was always there when he talked about Gage. “He got swarmed by all the girls though. They thought you were so cute.”
“Me?” Ange had said. “They thought I was cute?”
“Well, yeah,” Ian said, looking at her. “They liked your dress. They liked the flowers or something. I don’t know, whatever. It was stupid. I still don’t get why he did it.”
But Ange had never forgotten it, even as Gage and Ian got older and started going to parties instead of playing backyard football like they used to. She never saw Gage anymore, or if she did it was in passing, when he was dropping Ian home late at night from something crazy she would never be old enough to go to. Then suddenly they were in their senior year, a flurry of football games and college applications – Ian and Gage were both homecoming royalty, she remembered, smiling up at the crowd together the way they had been since day one – and then they graduated and went off to the state university together and she was left at home with an aloneness she had never thought would be there. Ian was home for vacations but it wasn’t the same, would never be the way it had been on those hot summer nights when all the neighborhood kids played together and came in to her house, panting, to drink glasses of cold lemonade. She remembered the look on Gage’s face when she’d hand him a glass. “Thanks,” he’d say with a freckled smile. One word and it would be the highlight of her whole night.
Maybe it was the lemonade that did it.
Maybe that was why Ange turned and ran across the street to the 7-eleven, busy at this time of night, a whole line of scruffy men buying cigarettes and beer. She looked for a six-pack by the door, Heineken, but there was nothing by the door but newspapers. Then she saw the fridge. It wasn’t where they’d said it was. She walked hurriedly down the aisle, opened it, grabbed three beers off the top shelf. Shoved them into the pockets of her coat. Walked back down the aisle, past the line at the counter, and pushed open the front door. She was out. The clerk hadn’t even seen her. But when Ange looked back across the street, to see the surprise on her brother’s face, there was no one there to see, nothing but a closed antique shop and a line of dusty cars on the sidewalk. Ian, Taylor, the other girl, Gage. In the few seconds Ange had been getting the beers, they had gone.
She stood there unmoving, not willing to believe they had really left her there alone, when the clerk’s voice came from behind her – “Can I help you with something, miss?” His voice was bright, not a hint of suspicion, yet Ange was suddenly terrified. She didn’t turn, didn’t think, just broke into a run, her sweater heavy on her shoulders in the hot summer air. She ran onto the sidewalk, made it to the street. Cars were whipping past at what seemed like the speed of light. She turned to the right, and it was then, as she turned, that one of the beers fell right out of her pocket and cracked open on the road.
The clerk, who had been watching Ange with interest, saw it fall and started to yell. “Hey! Miss! Get back here right now!” But there was no way Ange could go back. She kept running, the other two beers clanking in her sweater’s deep pockets as she ran up the sidewalk and then up the hill of a side street. It was getting darker now, and she didn’t know where she was going, but she had to get away. She thought of Leah, sitting in the student council meeting at the high school, deciding on what color the streamers would be at the end-of-year dance. She should have gone to the meeting, Ange thought with an agonized gasp, sprinting uphill in her leggings that were far too hot for the temperature it was. She should have just gone. This wasn’t worth it. These people, she realized, they weren’t worth it, weren’t worth anything to her, and even as she thought of Taylor’s sleek golden hair, her brother’s soft brown eyes, she couldn’t understand why just a minute ago all she had wanted was to impress them.
The road narrowed as she got further off of the main street, trees shadowing overhead so that even though night hadn’t fallen yet, it was dark. Then she heard a familiar engine from way behind her on the street. She’d heard it on too many summer nights, pulling up to her house far past her brother’s curfew, letting Ian out of the passenger street and speeding away with a roar. As Ange watched her brother stumble in drunk from whatever party he’d been at, she’d meet his eyes with a secretive glance. I’ve got your back, she would whisper in the dark. And she’d always known that he had hers.
So when Ange heard the roar of Gage’s truck behind her, it was with endless relief that she stepped into the street. They would take her away from the bar, take her out of here, and the broken bottle wouldn’t matter. They’d take her home.
The headlights blinded her when she turned around. The car was a lot closer than she’d thought it would be, Ange thought to herself, and she remembered hearing Gage saying at the start of the evening that he’d gotten it silencers. Through the windshield, she saw that Gage was behind the wheel as always. She smiled and held up the beer, knowing they would be glad, but Gage didn’t seem to see her. “Hey,” said Ange as the car bore down on her. “Hey,” she said again, louder this time, and Gage’s eyes finally landed on her. Then it all happened in slow motion. She saw Gage frantically twisting the wheel of the truck, heard one of the girls scream from the back, saw the terror on Ian’s face from the passenger seat as he realized they weren’t going to stop in time, couldn’t get the car to turn fast enough to not hit his little sister as she waited for them in the street. And maybe it was her imagination, but she thought she heard Gage screaming her name, not Ange but her full name. She couldn’t remember the last time someone other than her mom had called her that. And then the truck hit her, and everything went black.