Falling into Us Read online

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I felt guilty for not making more of an effort, but I knew, too, that nothing I did would make much difference.

  I knocked on the thick brown French doors, which were promptly opened by Mrs. Hawthorne. She had on a black-and-white paisley apron spattered with flour, and the kitchen smelled like oatmeal raisin cookies.

  “Hi, Becca! You’re back for the summer?” She greeted me with a one-armed hug, holding the other away from our bodies as if she still had dough on it.

  I hugged her back and took a whiff of the air. “Yeah, Jason and I just got in. It smells awesome in here. ”

  Mrs. Hawthorne smiled warmly at me. “Thanks, I’m just making some cookies. I’ve got a batch cooling on the counter. Want one?”

  “Do you even have to ask?” I grabbed a huge, soft, perfect cookie from the newspaper on the marble counter and bit into it. “Oh, my god, Mrs. Hawthorne, you make the best cookies. ”

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  She waved at me. “Oatmeal raisin cookies are my weakness. ” She ate one herself and then gestured at me with it. “And you know, Becca, you’re an adult now, so you might as well call me Rachel. ”

  I grinned at her, speaking through a mouthful. “I’ll try, but it’s pretty ingrained in me to call you ‘Mrs. Hawthorne. ’”

  “Well, you’ll learn,” she said. “So, how’s Jason?”

  “He’s great. He’s the starting wide receiver next season. ” I decided to fish a little. “So Jason and I are both seeing a school counselor from health services at the university. You know, about everything that happened with Kyle. ”

  Her smile faded a bit, and a haunted look entered her eyes. “I’m so glad to hear that. We worried about all of you. ”

  “It took some convincing to get Jason to go,” I admitted, “but he’s going once a month now. He says it helps. ”

  “With other things, too, I’m sure,” she said.

  I nodded. “It helps him deal with…the way he grew up,” I hedged, knowing Rachel—it was weird to think of her like that, as an adult and another person rather than my friend’s mother—knew at least a little bit about Jason’s history, but not exactly what. He was very closed off about that topic in general, so I wasn’t sure how much to say to her.

  “He had a very difficult upbringing, I know that much,” she said. “He never spoke of it to us, certainly not to me, but, well, this is a small town, and you hear things. And I saw things myself. I’m glad to hear he’s finding help with it. ”

  “Me, too. ” If Jason hadn’t told her about it directly, I certainly wasn’t about to tell her anything. “How about Nell? Is she…how is she doing?”

  Rachel turned away from me, taking tiny nibbles from her cookie and staring out the glass patio door. “I can’t get through to her, Becca. I’ve tried. Her father has tried. She won’t talk to us. She just shuts down and walks away. She’s upset enough, and we don’t want to make it worse by forcing a confrontation, but…I don’t think she’s doing well. But we don’t know how to help her. She won’t let anyone close. ” She glanced at me hopefully. “Has she talked to you at all?”

  I shook my head. “No. She won’t let me in, either. ”

  “She’s drinking,” Rachel said, almost blurting it out. “I know she is. I smell it on her. But I never catch her with it, and I’ve never found it in her room. I’m not sure where she’s getting it, where she drinks or when. But what can I do? She denies it and gets mad when I ask her about it, and she goes to work with her father on time, does her job…”

  “I smelled it on her when I was down here for the holidays. ” I always referred to going home as “down,” even though I knew logically that Ann Arbor wasn’t in any way “up” from home. “I wondered if you knew. ”

  “I know. ” She looked at me then, and I saw a fleeting expression cross her face, something desperate and almost pleading. “Don’t think we’re in denial, Becca. We’re not. We know she’s…not okay. But I don’t know what we can do. How do you force a legally independent child to see a therapist? She could run off to college whenever she wanted. She has several offers from universities still on the table, you know. If we push her away, she might run, and then we wouldn’t even be close enough to help her if something goes wrong. At least this way we’re here, you know? If something happens, we’re close. If she’s in California or New York, we’d be thousands of miles away if something happened. ” Rachel stood up and drew me into a gentle hug. “If she’ll let anyone in, it’d be you, Becca. But you need to take care of yourself first and foremost. ”

  I nodded. “I’ll try. I’ve been trying. Kyle’s death was hard on Jason and me, too. Jason especially. He was depressed for weeks. The only thing that really seemed to help was football and, well—me. ” I blushed, embarrassed to be referring to sex in front of Nell’s mom. “Once I got him to go see Dr. Malmstein with me, he got better. He dealt with it, and so did I. The hardest part of Kyle dying, honestly—aside from losing him, obviously—has been seeing Nell deteriorate. She’s not herself. She’s not my best friend anymore. She’s just…gone. ”

  Rachel sniffed and blinked hard, turning away to open the oven and pull out a sheet of cookies with an oven mitt. “I know, believe me, I know. We all miss Kyle. He had so much potential. He was so young, too young to die so tragically. But for Nell, I think he was everything. And now, she’s lost. ”

  I stood up from where I’d been sitting at the island counter. “Is she here? I’d like to go see her. ”

  Rachel nodded. “Yeah, she’s in her room. ”

  I went up the back stairs and found Nell’s door closed, but I heard music playing. The knob twisted in my hands, unlocked, and I pushed it open.

  The sight that greeted froze me in place.

  Nell was sitting on her bed, cross-legged. She had a long-sleeve T-shirt on, with one sleeve pushed up past her elbow. She had a razor blade in one hand, and I found her in the act of dragging the blade across her wrist. I stood, halted in stark terror, watching as the thin white line she’d carved in her skin welled up with crimson blood.

  TWELVE: A Thin Red Line

  Becca

  A tear trickled down my cheek. I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. “Nell? What—w-what are you doing?”

  She leaped up, clapping a wad of paper towel against her wrist. She stormed past me and closed the door, locking it, and returning to her place on the bed. She didn’t look at me as she held the paper towel to the line of blood.

  I sat beside her on the bed. She had a kit. An empty tampon box held a packet of razors, antiseptic wipes, Band-aids. She took the box from me, ripped open a wipe, and slid the razor through it, folded the wipe, and rubbed it over her arm, then fitted a Band-aid over the small incision she’d made. She hadn’t looked at me, hadn’t spoken to me. She tossed the wipe, the empty packet, and the Band-aid wrapper into a plastic Meijer bag from underneath her bed, filled with these same discarded items. She tied up the bag and stuffed it deep into her purse, clearly planning to throw it away someplace where it wouldn’t draw notice.

  “Nell?”

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  She sighed. “What, Becca?”

  “What…what is this? What are you doing?”

  “You’re smart, Beck. You tell me. ” She got up and scooped her iPhone from the desk and plugged it into the speaker dock. Eddie Vedder’s “Longing to Belong” came on, the unexpectedly amazing pairing of Eddie Vedder’s voice and a ukelele filling the room.

  I spent a quiet moment listening to the song, fighting my anger and my tears. “It looks like you’re cutting yourself. ”

  “Bingo. ” Nell sat at her desk, browsing through pages of what looked like guitar chord progressions in a thick book.

  “Why?”

  She gave me a look of disbelief. “Why? Really? Why the hell do you think?”

  “I don’t know, Nell!” I had to fight to keep my voice down. “I have no clue why you would cut yourself open with a ra