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Joined: February 18th, 2009, 7:01 am

June 25th, 2014, 2:21 am #1

In late May of 2012, the seniors of Aurora High School were wrapping up their exams, bracing themselves for the swarm of relatives that descended for graduation, anticipating college yet dreading the separation from their friends, and, of course, eagerly awaiting the senior trip. It was also the end of softball season, and Susan Clarke was marginally committed to going out on a good note. She found plenty to keep her busy with schoolwork and practice, and still she found time to make the party circuit, picking up and then immediately losing a new boyfriend. Finals were cause for some stress, because she just didn't have the grade buffer to laugh their results off. Over long nights, she managed to pull together enough of a mastery of the material to at least pass them all, however. Like her friends and the rest of the team, she had at last earned her freedom.

On June 11, 2012, upon returning home from school, Susan went straight to her room and sat on her bed and pulled the blankets tight around her to fend off the chills that had started sweeping through her at lunchtime. She stared at the wall and shook gently and cranked up the volume on her CD player and listened to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot three times in a row and when it was time for dinner she forced some energy into her step and some warmth into her voice because she knew that whether she was sick or not, her parents would assume the worst if they saw any hint that she wasn't feeling well. She choked down the fried rice and chicken her father prepared and acted like it tasted just as good as it always did and she talked about her day and her friends with greater apathy than normal and she smiled so broadly as she tried to make her vision focus on the faces of her parents and she hoped and wished and somehow they seemed not to notice anything wrong.

On June 12, 2012, Susan woke up feeling colder than when she went to bed and told herself it was just the weather. She went to school and stared with glazed eyes at the papers in front of her and mumbled at the people she spoke to and told herself that she never got sick in the summer and distracted herself with her CD player and avoided her friends just in case. By the time she made her way back home, though, she had given up any pretense that she was well, and with it any hope for the next day. She walked in and found her father and told him she had the flu, and she made a token argument for going on the trip anyways, explaining how she was probably past the contagious stage by now. Steven Clarke had been cutting a cabbage, the rhythmic chopping of knife against cutting board punctuating her words, but when she stopped speaking he set the knife down. He hugged her and told her that he was sorry this happened, that life wasn't fair, but that she would have to stay home. He put his hand to her head and said that, beyond that, she should probably go to bed.

Susan did go to bed, though not before making a few calls to let her friends know what had happened. She tried to keep her voice cheery and told them to have fun on her behalf, and said they'd better bring her back a Mickey hat or whatever people brought back from Disneyland. She took ibuprofen and pulled the covers over her head at eight o'clock, for the first time she could remember since middle school.

That night, she heard or dreamt she heard her parents talking outside her room. Her mother was saying that they should do something special to make up for what had happened. She said that maybe they could all take a trip to Disneyland as a family later in the summer, if they could find a few days when they could take off work. Her father said that it wouldn't be the same. Her mother said that she was on some level glad this had happened, and that she felt awful about that. Susan had never left the state without her parents.

On June 13, 2012, Susan spent most of the day sleeping and eating Cup Ramen. Her parents were at work, so it was very quiet. She went outside only to get the mail, at about four in the afternoon. When she did, she looked up at the sky, searching for a plane she could pretend was the one her friends were aboard, but none was in sight. She had not changed out of her pajamas and everything was cold and warm simultaneously. She went back to bed and didn't really become aware of anything further until she awoke to her father sitting on her desk chair, which he had pulled over next to her. He was leaning over, his head slumped and supported by his right hand. His eyes were closed. Susan had left the door closed and was trying to muster the energy to complain about the uncharacteristic violation of her privacy, but then the moment stretched for some time, maybe a minute or more, and she was instead overcome with the strangeness.

She finally pulled herself upright and her father stirred and just looked at her. He told her there was something serious he had to tell her, but that it didn't have to be now. Susan told him to go ahead, and he told her that the plane was missing. He said she should try not to worry too much, that it was too early to say what had happened, but that he didn't think it fair to keep it from her. This meant that her mother had probably wanted to do so.

Through her fever, Susan was able to tell herself that it probably would be alright. She didn't think about it too hard and certainly didn't grasp the implications. She ate another cup of noodles and went back to sleep.

On June 14, 2012, pieces of the missing plane were fished out of the ocean and Susan's fever broke. She still did not leave her bedroom. Her parents came and told her the news. They had both taken time off work. She expected them to be juggling calls, but aside from an hour after lunch when her mother had to handle something, they did not. They sat with Susan or in other parts of the house and said very little. None of them knew what to do. Susan's parents had known most of her friends, at least in passing. They knew some of the other parents, too.

The day passed slowly and Susan kept thinking something should happen, something was supposed to happen, but she had no idea what.

She thought a lot about those last few seconds and wondered what it had been like. She could hardly imagine Alda and Andi and Iselle and the others staring glassy-eyed out the plastic windows as the ocean grew closer and closer. She could sort of wrap her head around the impact. In her mind, everyone on the plane either died instantly in a big explosion or was knocked unconscious by the impact and then drowned peacefully as the plane sank towards the bottom of the sea. Her parents and the news were quick to bring up, at every opportunity, how they weren't yet sure what had happened and could not say for certain that anyone had even been injured, though the prospects were certainly not looking good. Susan understood their attempts at optimism even as she understood that they were forced.

This wasn't like assuring the others they could come back after an awful opening inning. Her team, her friends, the girls she had grown up with—they had plunged into the depths, so far away that it would be a miracle if their bodies could be recovered for funerals.

Somehow, Susan felt even more left behind than when she had only missed a trip to Disneyland.

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Joined: February 18th, 2009, 7:01 am

November 29th, 2017, 7:31 am #2

June of 2012 fell just short of being the third-wettest June in recorded Seattle history. Susan slept and ate noodles, and if there were funerals or memorials given for her friends and classmates she did not attend. She bided her time and let her strength return. She wasn't sure if they held a graduation ceremony for all those other unfortunates who, like her, had missed the trip. If they did, she didn't go.

She got her diploma in the mail, and all her relatives sent her cards. They lay piled on her desk, opened and read and discarded. She planned to deposit the checks, but couldn't muster the motivation to do so. She wrote thank you notes but did not mail them. As her flu faded into memory, she skulked around the house, and then slowly broadened her range to once again encompass parts of the outside world.

For the last week of the month, Susan would go outside and walk around her neighborhood every time it was overcast and her parents weren't home. She did circuits around the block, hands in her pockets, headphones over her ears, R.E.M. or Pavement whirring in her CD player. She never would have done that before because music was meant for paying attention to, but she was paying more attention to it than to the rest of the world as she walked. She knew her parents would be upset if they knew. They would tell her that such weather was bad for her immune system, and that she was liable to land herself in bed again, but she didn't care. A week in bed was a trivial thing.

On July 1, 2012, Susan took the bus to The Castle with her gear in her bag. She made her way to the batting cages and spent an hour hitting balls against the chain link.

There was no practical reason for it. Softball practice was over forever. Graduation also marked the end of Susan's career with the game; she wasn't good enough to try to play in any college, and didn't have the academic inclination to back such aspirations up anyways. She similarly lacked the commitment and affection to find some amateur league. Her team had been the core of her devotion to the game, and they were gone.

She had thought she could muster some sort of meaning or peace from her time in the cage, maybe an epiphany. Maybe she wouldn't miss a single ball. Maybe it would be the most perfect practice session of her life. In the end, she hit below her average and her muscles ached in reminder that she hadn't had a proper workout in weeks.

When she was leaving the cage, helmet in hand, the attendant on duty walked up to her. He was college-aged, short, with thick-framed glasses and curly black hair and traces of acne still on his cheeks. His posture was hesitant, but he flagged her down with a wave. When Susan stopped walking, he hustled over to her at a rate just below a job.

"Hey," he said. His tone was hesitant.

"Hey," Susan said.

"Hey," he said again, "I'm glad you're okay."

"What?" Susan said. She meant "Thanks," but her first impulse was to stall for time so as to figure out what he even meant.

"Oh," he said, "I, uh, I know that you're from Aurora. When I didn't see any of you in here for a month, I thought..."

"Oh," Susan said. She paused. The first thing that went through her head was how bad a tongue-lashing Iselle would give the juniors on the team when she found out they'd been skipping practice. The second thing was the realization that she wouldn't. "Thanks."

"I see you guys in here a lot," he said.

"I got the flu," Susan said. "I was home sick the day of the trip."

"Oh," he said.

"Most of my friends went," she said.

"Oh," he said. "I'm so sorry."

Susan shrugged. The bag she carried weighed her shoulder down, making the movement lopsided.

"I am too," she said. "Thanks."

He nodded. It felt like a moment of connection, a time to say something or reach out, but instead she simply looked at him. He said nothing. Maybe there was nothing left to say. Susan tried to smile at him, turned, and made her way out. She realized that, with school done and her friends gone, she might never have any reason to come here ever again.

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Joined: February 18th, 2009, 7:01 am

November 29th, 2017, 7:50 am #3

On July 4, 2012, Susan was awoken by her father. He rapped on the door and told Susan to get up, that he had something important to talk to her about. It was eleven in the morning and she did not know why her father was home; holidays were always big at the restaurants and he preferred to have a direct hand in ensuring their smooth operation.

What he told her brought it all clear.

Susan knew of Survival of the Fittest, of course, but in a distant sort of way. It was something that had happened, not something that happened. New York and New Jersey and Minnesota were a long way away, and so was Southern California but that was where Disneyland was so maybe that's where they'd gone wrong. She said something to this effect and her father didn't give her the sort of strange look he normally would've if they were out fishing and she came up with some non sequitur. He held her and he told her it was over.

It was over. It had been over for a very long time. Everyone had already died however they'd died and the broadcast was just a ripping off of that band-aid. The only death today was the death of hope, and that was by now a mercy killing.

Susan's father told her to do what she needed to do. He told her he loved her and had her back. He told her that he'd support her whatever happened and whatever she needed. The message was clear: if she needed to watch, that was okay.

She thought about it and even got on the computer and made her way to a page where she could, but she changed her mind.

She could read about it if she had to. She wanted to know, but she also knew nothing would change it. They'd died, all of them but one.

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Joined: February 18th, 2009, 7:01 am

December 5th, 2017, 6:52 am #4

The softball team was like a family, but Kelly and Lauren were, to Susan, rather like the cousins who visited twice a year for the holidays. Kelly was the first one to die, and that made sense. Wasn't that horrible? But Susan could be honest with herself.

She was sitting at home when she heard. It was the very first night. Well, she thought, that's what happens when you're the sort to cut practice. Then she felt truly terrible, because there was being honest with yourself and then there was that. Kelly had been killed by KK Konipaski, who was not somebody Susan knew personally or even had much of an opinion about because they ran in completely different circles.

She read about the killing on this website someone had set up to track things, a site that was very clinical, names and a little bit of summary and that was it. Was it better that way? Susan wasn't sure. She was in her pajamas and sitting there at her desk and she was even eating dinner. Her father had made Mapo tofu because it was one of her favorites and he'd said she could obviously use a little picking-up. She'd eaten her serving and then had taken seconds in a bowl to her room, and it was tepid and room-temperature now but she was still mechanically conveying pieces of pork and tofu to her mouth every so often. She didn't really taste anything, and that wasn't just the Szechuan peppercorn, the flavor of which her father said was usually described as "numbing."

Numbing. That was a good description. Susan was very numb right now. Her parents were downstairs cleaning up or talking, but she couldn't tell which over the roar of her music, on for background noise rather than intent focus for once. Susan tried pretty hard not to overhear her mother and father anymore, because she knew a lot of what was floating through their conversations. They carried this mix of sadness and relief. They knew the others—how could they not?—and their mourning would be just as real as Susan's, but at the same time they could cling to the fact that she had not been taken. She'd had the flu and so she was here reading about how Kelly died first. Susan was safe, even though the others were dead. Her parents had always been worried about her, but in the end they could be relieved that, by sheer chance, she had avoided catastrophe.

Susan didn't feel that relief. She guessed maybe she felt happy to be alive because dying sounded strange and scary and painful and dying in SOTF even more so, but she also felt really really bad. It was guilt—not, she thought, survivor's guilt, but a different sort. The guilt that she felt was very specific and concrete and personal.

She wasn't there for them. Whatever had happened, it had happened without Susan, had happened a thousand miles away, and that wasn't right. Kelly and Lauren might have been cousins to the core group of friends, but Susan was nuclear family. She had a role. She could smooth things over, keep the others talking to each other when nothing else could bring peace, perk them back up after a tough loss. That was her knack, her specialty, and she just knew nobody else on the team was as good at it.

When Kelly's death was announced, Susan felt certain she could've kept the others going. Someone would have to keep Katy from flipping her lid, Alda from doing something rash. It would hit them hard, shake them that one among their number could be gone just like that, gone without—as Susan had learned through some further research—ever so much as seeing another member of the team. If spirits could sink after they got blown out by a cross-town rival, at least there was always next game. There was no redo for a death, though, no redemption, no better ending to be had. That understanding had to hurt and terrify.

But maybe Susan wasn't trusting her teammates enough. Maybe they were fine. If she could see that Kelly being the first demise was natural, then couldn't Iselle? Losing someone was inevitable, wasn't it?

She didn't know. She tried to put herself in the mindset, and she just couldn't do it. The thought of her classmates, her friends—and she had many more friends in this than just the other softballers, people like Mallory and Jason and Corey and Travis—fighting and hurting and even killing one another just did not make sense. KK Konipaski at least made sense, because Susan could sort of put a face to KK but that was about it, so maybe KK had always been a horrible person just one push away from the unforgivable.

A thought: Kelly was the obvious first, but what number had been Susan's? What link in the chain was missing? Her spoon clinked against the bottom of her bowl, and she set it aside, on autopilot.

Okay. So Kelly was first, and then... no, she wasn't going to guess. Just maybe pick a number. There were seven of them on the trip, plus Susan for eight, and Kelly was first of those seven (eight).


That was it. Susan should've been fifth. The beginning of the end. She'd be trying to help someone, to save one of them from some danger or to intervene and calm someone down, and that would be it. Iselle and Kathryn would be shocked but they'd hold it together, maybe even for her sake, and Andi might actually let herself almost cry. Alda would be roaring for revenge, but the others would be able to hold her back, or maybe they wouldn't and that's what would ultimately get the girl killed.

All of a sudden this was an even worse idea than it had always been. Susan tried to take her mind off it and scrolled a little bit further down the list and then right there was a name that brought her up short: Iselle.

For a second she thought she'd made a mistake, because no way, absolutely no way was Iselle second, and then she saw the other name and she sorted it all into the right order and realized that Iselle was the KK Konipaski to a Kelly in the form of Sven.

Susan had been right. That was the thought that hit her hardest as her vision fuzzed and she let her head sink to her desk, unaware that her hair was trailing in her bowl, pooling in the remaining sauce.

They'd needed her, and she hadn't been there.

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Joined: February 18th, 2009, 7:01 am

January 19th, 2018, 3:02 am #5

When news of Lauren's death broke, somewhere in the realm of two days after Kelly, Susan tried not to think. She tried not to think she'd been right. She tried not to visualize it. This was difficult, because it was an absurd and unique way to die. Nonetheless, she did her best.

She went about her day as though it was any day. A normal day. Maybe it was a normal day. Maybe this was the new normal. Really, when she thought about it, nothing had actually happened today. The dead were still dead, just like they had been for weeks.

Susan's parents asked her if she was okay over dinner. They asked not because she was being reticent or choking back tears, but rather because she was back to normal. She talked about her day—she did nothing today, but actual nothing, not I-don't-want-to-talk-about-it nothing—and it was glorious. After she'd heard about Lauren, she'd sat around in her pajamas just listening to music, and she'd only checked back a few times for updates of the most permanent kind, and none had manifested regarding the others.

Susan's nothing today included that she was more or less over Smashing Pumpkins, but was starting in on a fixation with Third Eye Blind. This was interesting because by all accounts both Billy Corgan and Stephan Jenkins were huge jerks, and both had that semi-theatrical angsty white boy style, and Corgan was probably actually a little more upfront about everything but he was also just so overblown and grandiose. There was nothing relatable about it, except maybe in the melodramatic sense.

Susan's parents told her that was very interesting. It wasn't, but she appreciated the effort. Sometimes she just needed to talk, and for people to at least pretend to listen to her.

Dinner was an eggplant dish. Susan's father seemed oddly disinterested in telling her what it was, and she wanted to ask if he was okay. Her mom too, come to think of it. They were the ones behaving strangely. Susan didn't ask.

The food was spicy and warm and delicious as always. Susan took seconds and then for the first time in weeks she took thirds. She talked about how weird double albums were on CD; a lot of the time they didn't justify the disruption of having to switch discs because they were almost short enough to fit on one and were arbitrarily separated to better match the vinyl. But what was the point of that? Wasn't a smoother listening experience desirable? That was the whole point of CDs; nobody complained that you didn't have to flip for the b-side anymore. At least she could give Billy Corgan that. He thought big. When he took two discs, he delivered two hours of music.

After dinner, Susan went to her room and listened to the intro of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and "Tonight, Tonight" and then turned the album off before she started to dislike it again. She turned in early for bed. She drifted off as her parents talked down below. They spoke more freely and more vividly now that she was out of the room. It seemed they were fine after all.

Susan woke at three in the morning, parched. The eggplant dish, whatever it was, had sucked the moisture right out of her—the glass of water on her bedside table was totally empty, and she was pretty sure it had been full when she closed her eyes. She blinked the haze away, stood, and tiptoed her way downstairs. The floor, in her room and the hall and the stairs, was all hardwood. There were spots that creaked, but not many, and Susan knew where they all were. She'd snuck her way out before, and more often she'd slipped downstairs for water just like tonight. Her parents did not appreciate being woken up, even if they never held it against her.

The refrigerator was stainless steel, illuminated by a blue LED. It was cold on the outside like it was on the inside, perfect and sterile, and magnets didn't stick to it. It was the Terminator of food preservation. They'd had a more friendly refrigerator when Susan was young, but it had fit half as much and had looked out of place in its ugly bumpy beige. Susan filled her glass; the new refrigerator had a built in filter and it wasn't too horribly loud.

She was truly awake now, she thought. When she felt this way, going back to sleep was a toss-up; sometimes it was a nigh impossibility, but other times she would barely start considering how she might try to fall asleep before she found herself unconscious. Today seemed more likely to be the former, though. The house, so familiar and comfortable, suddenly chilled. The ambient noises stood out. The wind couldn't decide whether to whisper or roar. The refrigerator clicked, a whir joining its customary hum, perhaps its internal reservoirs replacing the water Susan had drawn, or the ice machine going off for whatever reason.

Step by step she crept towards the staircase. The banister was cast iron, with Gothic curls. They didn't match the rest of this modern home; her dad had wanted to replace them for ages but never enough to actually do it. The drapes were white like Halloween ghosts, gently billowing from an air current of unknown origin. Susan stepped on the wrong part of the first stair and it creaked. She froze, heart pounding, for a moment.

When she resumed her climb, she did so with as light a tread as she could manage. She looked to the ceiling. There were cobwebs in the corner. Housekeeping hadn't been as much of a priority these past few weeks. The wood felt cool, smooth beneath her feet. She'd heard rain might be coming tomorrow.

It took her twice as long to ascend as the rest of the excursion had. The door to her room was closed when she got there. The wind must have blown it shut.

Susan opened the door and took one step into the darkened room—she knew the house well enough to navigate it without light, but she thought she'd turned her lamp on—and raised the glass of water to her lips.

Then a figure popped up out of Susan's bed like a demonic jack in the box. She couldn't make out the details, but the boy was neither tall nor short, his hair messy, sweater yellow, nothing distinct about him except the submachine gun he leveled at her. He pulled the trigger and Susan's scream drowned out the rattling of bullets. The glass fell from her hand and exploded, wetness and shards bouncing off her legs and bare feet. She stumbled backwards, one step, two, fell and would have risked cracking her tailbone but she caught herself on the wall behind her. She slid slowly down it to slump on the ground.

The smoke and cacophony cleared and she was met with nothing. Her bed was untouched. Her body was uninjured, except for a chunk of glass stuck in the sole of her left foot. Her parents came running up the stairs moments later and found her sitting on the floor, extracting that sliver, droplets of blood dribbling from her and splashing against the wood.

What happened? they asked. What was wrong? What was going on? Was she okay?

Fine, she said. I'm fine.

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Joined: February 18th, 2009, 7:01 am

February 1st, 2018, 1:47 am #6

Katy died, and Susan left the house. These things did not happen at the same time; Katy died on the seventeenth of June, and Susan heard about it on the eighth of July. It had been broadcast sometime overnight, while Susan was sleeping or maybe while she was picking glass out of her feet, so she discovered it while reading a transcript of the announcements. Then she had to go back and dig into things, had to find out what had happened and how, and that had been a mistake.

It was Paris. Paris had baited Katy, had promised to bring her to the others and then goaded her into attacking, and one of his allies had shot the girl. Of course Katy had fallen for it. Poor, gullible, hair-trigger Katy, taken hook line and sinker. Susan allowed herself that cliché. She fished. She knew what it meant, and Paris had reeled Katy in as surely as Susan had any of her catches. She'd watched the start of it, her first time doing so. She'd had to see it, and she'd regretted it.

She left the house. Her father let her go. He didn't say a word, though his glance and the thin line of his lips spoke his concern and displeasure. Her mother wasn't home to stop her. They had, last night, suggested that therapy might be in order. Susan had demurred. She didn't want it. It would probably help.

Susan made her way downtown and thought about anger. The emotion was, of course, not the sole dominion of Katy. In fact, the softball team was, as a collective, fairly angry. Iselle, Alda, Andi, they all had their major moments. Their minor moments too. Susan was rarely angry herself. She got frustrated sometimes, and maybe even upset, but these things sizzled for a little and then went out. It was hard for her to stay properly pissed off, even when she really wanted to.

As she sat on the bus, occasionally catching sight of the Space Needle coming closer and closer, she mulled over just how much she wanted to keep the fire burning. There were, however, no easy answers. She needed time to decide.

By the mid-afternoon, Susan had decided that she wished she was furious. There were wildly different magnitudes of malice, she'd realized, even in something like murdering your classmates. She could maybe understand being afraid and making mistakes. Mistakes happened. Iselle had made a mistake. Lauren had been a mistake. She hadn't thought something like that could make the hurt better, but it sort of did. Or maybe that wasn't looking at it quite right. Maybe, when it wasn't a mistake, it made everything worse.

There had been no mistaking what passed between Katy and Paris.

Before and after this revelation, Susan drifted. She paced the sidewalks, trying to scowl, but she felt silly and couldn't help smiling. She sought distractions, ducking into coffee shops and convenience stores. She texted her father, told him she was okay. She was feeling much better. She was clearing her head. She was going to the museum.

The EMP Museum would've probably captured her attention on another day. It came very close even now, and she spent her time walking circles through its chambers, finally coming to a stop right next to the guitar tornado. It was exactly that, too: a sculpture made up of hundreds of guitars formed into a whirlwind. Susan set her purse down and held the rail surrounding the sculpture with both hands, as if she might be blown away otherwise.

Maybe this was something like the fury that had carried her friends off. Certainly it spoke to her like nothing else she'd seen. It was potent, a combination of instruments, endless creative potential, but all wasted. These guitars would never make music. They were part of something bigger than themselves, something striking and huge and awe-inspiring, but something cold and dead in a way that music was not. They were just one inert mass now, all these instruments in their different colors and styles.

It was too much, too on the nose, and Susan just stayed there staring and staring as the intercom announced the museum was closing in half an hour, fifteen minutes, five. She picked out details, strings and fret markings, little scratches on the bodies. She imagined a hundred stages.

What would they have been like, these futures that would never be lived? What would they all have become?

A security guard very politely shooed Susan outside. She'd been standing so still, and she'd almost lost track of the anger she wished she felt. A tornado looked almost like the Eiffel Tower turned upside down. She thought about going up the Space Needle maybe, but instead walked towards the ocean. She twisted her way through the Olympic Sculpture Park, thinking perhaps she could pull some meaning from something there, but a large red metal construction that could've been a bird or a rocket ship or a meaningless doodle depending on the angle it was viewed from offered her nothing.

The walking was doing her some good, at least. She passed along the piers, often pausing to look out at the ocean, She watched the ebb and flow of the tide and wondered if this was the same ocean which held the island her friends had died on. There was no aim to her movements, no purpose. She wasn't angry. She wished she was but she was nothing.

The sun set, and the clouds opened up. Susan was wearing her coat, but she didn't want to be stuck out in the rain in any event. She briefly debated whether to call her father for a ride or to just catch the next bus home. In the end, she didn't do either of these things. She'd left her phone and her wallet in her purse, and she'd left her purse sitting on the floor of the EMP Museum.

Night fell. The wind chilled Susan even through her coat. She could have solved her problem easily, probably. She could have borrowed some stranger's phone, or begged bus fare from a passerby, or probably even spun a sob story to the driver and gotten a free ride. She didn't do any of these things.

She could take care of herself, right? Her friends, her teammates, had faced trials of the sort they'd barely even joked about. They'd died, but not right away. They'd accomplished things, she was sure of it. They'd done their best, all on their own. They couldn't beg for a handout, so Susan wouldn't. This was her own doing. She tried to be angry with herself.

She hunched beneath an overpass for a time. Her left foot was hurting something fierce now. She'd put a band-aid over the cut, but that was this morning, and she'd walked for hours since. The sole of her foot felt sticky, damp. It was probably largely rainwater, but she couldn't imagine it as anything but blood. She was wounded too now.

The rain was falling for real, as it hadn't since before the truth came out. Cars splashed through gutters, headlights reflecting off puddles, off damp asphalt, off windows. Susan walked, head down, shoulders hunched. The hairs on her arms and the back of her neck prickled. Time was loose, sloppy. How long had she been walking? When had she last had anything to eat? To drink? She turned her head up, opened her mouth, and a raindrop hit her in the eye. She blinked away the wetness of the water and the wetness of sudden tears.

The world was quieter now, not dead but not quite alive either. Everything seemed grey, except for Susan. Her coat was all wrong for this, a bright red blaze of life and emotion that made her self conscious. She shrugged her way out of it, and then the chill and the wet and the fatigue really hit her, and she realized this was crazy. What she was doing—what was she doing?—it made no sense. This wasn't anger, or acceptance, or anything but some almost somnambulant funk that she'd not been able to shake since she got up for water in the middle of the night. It was raining and cold and she squirmed back into her coat right away, buttoned it back up. What did it matter if she stood out? But the wetness was inside, now, under her collar, soaking into her shirt. Her parents would be worried. They would've called, again and again, and found no response. She'd surely missed dinner.

She had to go home, she realized, if not for herself then for her family. While there was this vague idea of justice, of sharing the pain that Iselle's moms felt, the horror and loss of not knowing a child's fate, that was just a malicious whisper. That those thoughts could come from inside her finally did spur the anger, for a moment, and she shouted a sound into the night. It wasn't a scream, and it certainly wasn't words. She didn't know what it was, maybe the anger, because that emotion snuffed out afterwards and then she was just cold and wet and empty.

The bus stop did not have a proper shelter, so Susan sat in the rain some more, this time on a bench. It had to be well after midnight now. Cars still passed from time to time, but far away. She did not know the schedule at this time of night. She'd never been out this late without a plan, a lifeline, a contact.

Susan had been staring at her feet for some time when she became aware that she was no longer alone. A white man was sitting next to her, a respectful empty seat left between them. He was watching her. He looked to be in his late thirties or early forties, black hair just starting to recede, a bit of paunch and a bit of muscle and a bit of stubble on his chin. He had on slacks and a brown jacket over a crumpled white shirt; while this was only visible near the collar, Susan could see his skin where the thin white fabric had gone transparent from the dampness. When Susan looked up at him he met her gaze, blinked, and then when she expected him to turn away he didn't, so she did.

"Are you okay?" he asked. His voice was quiet.

"Yeah," Susan said. She said nothing further, but the silence did not stretch long.

"What are you doing out here so late?"

The hair on her neck and arms prickled again, and she shivered and put her hands in the pockets of her coat.

"You look cold," the man said.

"I'm waiting for the bus," Susan said.

"Do you need help?" Susan looked back at the man and he was still looking straight at her. "Are you getting away from something?"

"I'm fine," Susan said. She stood up and took a few steps away from the bench, ending up beneath the comparative shelter of a tree, and the man scooted along the bench to maintain distance with her, smearing the streaks of water, until he sat on the end spot that she'd just vacated.

"If you need somewhere to stay, I can help," he said. "I know what it's like. I'm a teacher."

Susan wanted to scream at him no, shut up, she didn't want or need his help. She wanted to ask for help calling home. She wanted to say she didn't even have money for the bus. She wanted to turn and run. Fear and mistrust stirred inside, this apprehension of something writhing and sinister, and then the man blinked and finally looked away, dug a phone out of his pocket and busied himself with it. So Susan did nothing but release her breath and, after three long seconds, glance over her shoulder.

The two of them were no longer alone. Another young woman, a few years older than Susan, maybe a college student, was walking towards the stop. She was Asian too, though not, Susan thought, Chinese; she was a couple inches shorter than Susan, wearing black jeans and a black windbreaker, glasses speckled with rain, straight, shoulder-length hair stuck to the sides of her face. The newcomer's gaze swept over the pair, but casually, like she wasn't really seeing them, and certainly she couldn't see Susan's fears, the pressure mounting inside, but it didn't matter. Susan had a flash of something, maybe intuition, and she walked up to the other woman, who was glancing back up the street.

"I'm," Susan said, and her mouth felt dry, the words less easy than they'd been with the man, "I'm sorry to bother you but, uh, I lost my wallet and I don't have any money for the bus. I was, I was wondering if—"

"Sure," the woman said. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a wallet and then frowned a little before handing over two dollar bills and two quarters.

"Thanks," Susan said.

"It's nothing."

The rain fell, the only sound to disrupt the silence. Susan held the money tightly. She felt she should move away from the woman, but to do so would bring her closer to the man; as she thought this she glanced at him, barely catching him turning his attention back to his phone. Susan opened her mouth like she had something to say, then closed it again. The woman was looking off down the road, but when the headlights of the bus finally appeared, she barely seemed to react.

The man boarded the bus first, and then Susan, but she waited until both of the others who'd been at the stop with her were seated before finding a spot of her own; the man sat in the middle of the bus, right by the doors, while the woman chose a corner at the very back. Nobody else was onboard aside from the driver.

Susan felt her eyes starting to drift closed as the comparative warmth and dryness took hold. The travel was a blur of colors, the silence broken only by the rumble of the bus' engine and the drumbeat of rain. Other passengers got on and off the bus, but Susan had little room in her awareness for them. She felt lucky to be aware enough upon reaching her stop to disembark.

As she did, the man stood as well, and she felt her breath catch for a moment, but he went and instead sat next to the woman who'd paid Susan's fare and who was now slumped over slightly, and Susan felt awful about the relief this provoked.

The bus pulled away, and Susan limped home. As she approached the front door, she saw that all the lights were on.

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Joined: February 18th, 2009, 7:01 am

February 7th, 2018, 9:29 am #7

Susan was now grounded. She didn't object or argue. She had an appointment for therapy. She didn't protest. It had seemed far away when five days out, and now seemed impossibly close at two. Susan wasn't quite sure how that worked out.

Alda was now dead. More pertinently, she was now known to be dead. Susan had not watched what had happened, but she had pieced it together. While she had been out and about, wondering lost, Paulo's death at the hands of Ian Williams had been broadcast. The next day, while she had been sobbing her way through the fallout apologies, Alda's killing of Meera Steele had been revealed to the world. One day of calm, and then Alda too fell to Ian.

There had been only one surprise about the sequence of events.

"I never knew you liked The Princess Bride so much," Susan said to the wall.

She had spent the bulk of the last three days in her room. Her foot was healing nicely. Walking around on it so much had not done her injury any favors, and it had indeed bled a good bit; she'd thrown her socks away and then her father had squeezed her hand while he cleaned the cut with antiseptic and her mother called the police to cancel the missing persons report. Then she'd slept and slept and slept and finally woken up and started watching movies.

Susan liked movies, and not necessarily the sort of movies most people pegged her for. She really loved Star Wars—specifically, the first three, the ones with soul and practical effects and humor pitched to those above the age of six. The team had been aware of her interest, at least peripherally. She'd quoted it at them often enough, they had to have had an inkling.

Similarly, Susan was well aware of, say, Iselle's love of all things Supernatural. Susan did not really like television shows quite as much as she did movies. It was the pacing, she thought, the constant need to stretch and justify themselves, the inability to end.

What was wrong with endings?

There was, she thought, this strange cultural baggage around them. People wanted things to end, but also to go on forever. It was why there were so many sequels and reboots and spiritual successors and prequels and spin-offs. It had to be more of the same, different but not really. She could understand it to a point; sometimes she turned her CD player on repeat and let closing bleed back into opening. And yet, at the same time, that was a repetition, not a failure to conclude. You could always watch a movie again, watch it a dozen, a hundred, a thousand times until you casually quoted it in conversation while eating dinner with your teammates or making mistakes that led inexorably to your being stabbed to death.

As a matter of fact, Susan also liked The Princess Bride. She liked it enough that she had, to the great surprise of her parents, purchased the book in the middle of her sophomore year and then read it all the way through over the next month. It was a somewhat magical book, in that it managed to achieve much the same effect as the movie, which was impressive given the movie's framing device, in which the characters read the book. And then, when Susan had actually finished it, she'd found something else: evidence that William Goldman felt about endings and sequels much how she did.

At the end of her copy—not of all copies, but only those released after the twenty-fifth anniversary—was an extra little bit, purportedly from the long-lost sequel. It revealed such cheerful developments as Fezzik's death and Westley's practicing for his reunion with his true love with an incalculable number of whores during his pirate days. It was something that would have perhaps appalled Susan, except that she got it. She understood the subtext in a way that had always eluded her in her essays in English class. The sequel chapter sucked. That was the entire point. Nobody could leave well enough alone. They wanted more and more but beyond a ending the only more there was to be had was death and disillusionment. Trying to recapture the greatness of a magical story just didn't work. You were left holding a sickly, slimy, pulsating imitation.

So Susan didn't think of that chapter very much when she thought about The Princess Bride. She thought instead about what she knew of the movie, of the story contained between the beginning and the designated end. She knew quite a bit.

She knew something you didn't know, except if you knew her you probably did: she sure was not left-handed. She'd tried to be, once, for a day. Her handwriting had suffered greatly, and she'd dropped ramen down her tank top at lunch and laughed and laughed. She'd caught herself messing up on little things, scratching her head with her dominant hand or reaching out to grab something with it on reflex, and then forced herself to do it over, just more clumsily and worse. Ms. Little had caught sight of her failing to open her locker and gave her this funny raised-eyebrow expression. Practice at the end of the day had put an end to Susan's experiments real quick, though. It was amazing how hard it was to do the same simple motions with the wrong limb. It was amazing how much her teammates cared about actually winning. But that was part of what she liked about them, so she played it their way.

She knew the difference between mostly-dead and all-dead. Right now, Kelly and Lauren and Katie and Alda were all-dead. Nothing could be done for them. Their parents would be trying to move on and Susan was mourning them and that was that. Iselle, Katherine, and Andi, on the other hand, were only mostly-dead. There was nothing Susan or anyone could do that would change anything in any way, since it had all already happened, and yet at the same time there was a tiny chance—well, okay, like a one in thirty? Each? Wait, did that mean one in ten overall? That wasn't as bad as she'd thought, but Susan was really not very good at math and she didn't want to ask anyone for help on this one—that one of them could just come stumbling down the street and plop down on the couch. Yeah, they'd be older than when they left, years sucked out of their lives, but just at a glance, you wouldn't be able to tell. You'd have to know them well, very well, to look them in the eyes and see the hollowness. You'd have to be a little empty yourself to even recognize ultimate suffering.

She knew what it meant to fight, but not to the death. She knew it was instead to the pain. The pain: loss of limb, of senses, of sense, but never the ears. Those perfect, perfect ears to hear, and if that wasn't exactly what it would look like, it couldn't be far off, now could it? Susan didn't know a whole lot about those who'd come out before, but she'd heard bits, both in years past and since the news broke as she looked through old reports. She remembered missing fingers. She remembered a shattered shoulder. She remembered a broken heart. She remembered a mangled ear. Perhaps her metaphor wasn't as on-point as she'd thought, or maybe it wasn't about the preservation of any one specific sense but was instead about awareness, consciousness. Maybe whichever mostly-dead classmate of hers returned to life would find the strength to stand and act as if everything was normal, but there would always be the whispers, the looks, the spark of fear or pity or judgment that would inevitably accompany recognition. She'd felt the barest reflections of that and she was just the one who missed the bus because she had the flu.

The one thing about The Princess Bride that Susan had not known was how much it meant to someone she'd thought she'd known well indeed. How, she wondered, how had she missed it? Alda wore her emotions on her sleeve. Alda was angry, loud, lacking in subtlety. But the report of what she'd said, more than with anything that had transpired on that island, had stretched credulity. Susan tried to imagine Alda's lips forming the familiar words, tried them on with dark levity, tried them on with incoherent anger, tried them on with borrowed courage masking a mind that finally felt fear at a loss that could never be undone. None of it fit.

It wasn't like this with the others. Even the nonsensical had made a certain sense. But Alda had died someone Susan wasn't entirely sure she knew. She'd have asked the girl about it, but of course she never could.

Susan's tears had formed a speckled semicircle on her shirt. The television in front of her was paused, a man in black and a short, balding man staring at each other across a pair of goblets. One would die and one would live on, and at the end of the day all the secrets and knowledge and understanding of each other in the world wouldn't make a difference because both glasses were poisoned.

Alda had taken her secrets—herself—to the grave.

Susan mumbled at the wall, "As you wish."

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February 14th, 2018, 5:01 am #8

O captain, my captain.

There was another thing from the movies. Dead Poet's Society, one Susan had watched in some class freshman year and couldn't actually remember that well aside from the poem and that someone killed himself maybe and it had Robin Williams and also it had the song "Stranded in the Jungle" which had always made her laugh when she was younger. She didn't remember the poem at all aside from that first line—it was something about the death of Abraham Lincoln, she thought, an event which felt impossibly distant and mostly irrelevant to her but remained a perennial American obsession. She didn't feel so bad, twisting the poem to her own ends. She didn't much care for poetry, but sometimes something just felt right.

O captain, my captain. Or, more precisely: o captain, my captains.

Iselle was gone. Kathryn did it.

This, so soon after Alda. This was wrong, all wrong. This wasn't the order at all. Iselle and Kathryn shared the captaincy, yes, that was true, and Susan respected them both and followed their leads, but were she to have to introduce them to someone she'd've almost always called Iselle the captain, and would've almost always called Kathryn the co-captain.

She thought of it kind of like this: Iselle could've run the team all on her own, run it well and competently, and they would've certainly lost something for Kathryn's demotion or absence but they would've retained their identity, more or less. Kathryn flying solo, though? That was hard to picture. She just couldn't imagine it working out as well. The team wouldn't fall apart overnight, wouldn't totally suck, but they wouldn't have been the same, either. They wouldn't have been particularly recognizable.

The information had just hit. It was before the announcements aired, before the recap, and there was room for a whole lot more bad news, but Susan had turned it off. She'd completely turned her computer off, made her way downstairs, balancing a stack of plates and bowls and glasses like she was one of her father's waitresses, and had washed them in the sink, by hand, despite the dishwasher right there. Her father had glanced in—he was hanging around the house most of the time now, delegating management duties in ways he'd always been reluctant to in the past—and had raised an eyebrow, and Susan had just mumbled, "Iselle. By Kathryn," and he'd turned a little pale and nodded and let her be.

Susan scrubbed and scrubbed, scrubbed the bowls clean and kept on going, feeling the soap against her fingers, a sheen that she'd scrub and scrub off at the end and still feel lingering. She wished she had a bigger stack. She used a lot of plates and silverware, but her father came to her room and removed it every day or two.

Her parents hadn't restricted her silverware access. She could take steak knives with her if she wanted, and she was grateful to them for that. That little show of trust was part of why she could hold herself together and just sit around and watch movies all day.

When the dishes were so far beyond done and her fingers so wrinkled she couldn't pretend anymore, Susan trudged back up the stairs to her room. She thought about turning her computer back on, but didn't. She'd seen vague summaries, suggestions of an accident. It didn't matter. She'd heard about Kathryn's accident earlier, after Alda, her accident with a baseball of all things. That was her freebie. Sven was Iselle's and Carlos was Kathryn's, so a second mistake meant Kathryn was out. No three strikes. No way.

Susan wasn't mad per se. She wasn't sure quite what she was. Certainly, an overwhelming pressure was building inside of her, something that made the tides of emotion that swept her downtown after Katie seem like nothing. It was only about a day until her therapy appointment, and while she'd been dreading it before, she now wanted nothing more than for it to hurry up and arrive. She had to let this go somehow, let it spill over, but she didn't have any idea where to begin.

Then, suddenly, she did.

Susan sprung back off her bed and made her way down the stairs, footsteps quick and light. The sun's rays came through the windows, creating big rectangular patches on the ground. When she was a kid, she'd loved sitting in them, feeling the warmth of the hardwood floor. Her mother had said she was just like a cat. The refrigerator gleamed, looking like a normal part of the house, not some sterile alien apparatus. Susan cut through the kitchen and down the hall. She was heading to the garage.

After that last trip to The Castle, Susan had left her gear in a pile in the corner of her room. At some point, her father had come in and moved it. Her uniform had been washed and folded neatly in her closet. Her mitt had been placed on a shelf. Her mouthguard had been on her bedside table. There was just one thing missing, but that was okay. Susan knew where it was. She knew a lot of things her parents weren't aware she knew.

The garage was spacious and clean, so much so that Susan felt strange on those rare occasions she ended up in somebody else's garage and found it messy or damp. It seemed like the normal state of affairs for garages and so entering them felt like an intrusion, like rifling someone's drawers while in their bathroom, which she also did and then felt strange about. Her garage smelled slightly of sawdust, and maybe it wasn't as impersonal as she imagined. It was used for storage, but this took the form of a series of shelves along the walls. There, on the top shelf in the back corner, was what Susan was looking for.

Her bat nestled in the same spot her mom had hidden her birthday presents for as long as she could remember—she'd been sneaking to peek at them for at least six years now. The shelf was tall enough that Susan was pretty sure her father used the stepladder by the door to access it, but she never remembered to grab it and was too impatient to turn back for it. Today was no different. She climbed up the shelves instead, boosting herself onto the second shelf, the third, holding tightly to the frame with her left hand and grasping with her right.

The shelves were wooden, old, solid, but still they creaked under her weight. She always forgot about this part, and there came the inevitable moment of worry, and with it the thrill.

For a moment, Susan was a sophomore again, at some house party whose host she couldn't remember. She was clambering up onto a table as the music blared, laughing and shoving an empty can of beer—except it had more heft then it should've, fell with a clunk that said maybe it wasn't empty after all—to the floor, waving and shouting something. She was wearing a short, tight blue dress her mother had said she wasn't so sure about but had let Susan buy anyways that made her feel really adult and cool, and people were turning to watch her with that look they got that was somewhere between exasperation and awe that she was actually doing what she was doing. She started to dance, sort of, flailing her arms, wiggling her hips, and someone pawed at her leg and she turned, maybe one third thrilled and two thirds frightened that some strange guy might be grabbing at her but it was just one of the girls she'd come with, smiling and egging her on.

Susan smiled back and took one step forward and then felt the table tilt and give way beneath her.

Falling was quick and slow, long enough for her to comprehend, long enough to watch the smiles leave the eyes of her audience even as they lingered on faces, long enough for her to tense and twist and thrash, and then it was screaming and a scramble to hide the beer and shouting and a panicked call home and a long, long and awkward drive to the hospital as she wept and her parents didn't say a word.

Her fingers closed around the bat, and the shelves creaked but held, and Susan glanced over her shoulder and jumped the three and a half feet to the ground. She landed harder than she'd hoped, felt her foot throb in protest, but recovered and took a breath.

The handle of the bat was cool, the wrapped grip rough and familiar against her palm and fingers. She looked around, looked at her father's car for a moment, the mirrors on the sides, the windows rolled mostly up with just a crack open to air the vehicle out, then shook herself out of it and started walking. She didn't know where she was going, what she was doing, just that she was going there and doing it. Each step felt outside her control, preordained. She moved through the hall, past the refrigerator. She saw the door to the back yard come closer and closer, felt her shoulders tense, her fingers curl ever tighter around the bat. Her left hand reached out for the door handle, made it within an inch of the metal.


She spun, and there was her father, the concern in his voice exceeded only by that etched across his features. She opened her mouth but said nothing. She was aware of the weight in her right hand, and she saw her father's gaze trace immediately to it.

"Give me the bat," he said. He took a step forward.

Susan raised her right hand, brought her left around to meet it, assumed the proper stance. She saw the pitcher winding up, heard Iselle offering little corrections to her posture, her breathing. Closing her eyes, she could smell the grass and sweat and dirt.

She opened them, saw her father's expression change, his eyes widen. He took a step back, and Susan dropped the bat to the ground, where the impact echoed like a gunshot. A second later, she followed it, slumping to her knees. She looked at her father, looked him straight in the eyes.

He hesitated for a second, glanced at the bat slowly rolling towards the wall, and that's when she began to cry and he swooped in and pulled her into his embrace.

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Joined: February 18th, 2009, 7:01 am

March 25th, 2018, 10:10 pm #9

Had Susan told Andi, that day in the park? She couldn't remember. That was what bothered her most, she told the therapist, a kindly, balding white man with a thick grey mustache and a bit of pudge around his middle. Susan had admitted that she wasn't going to college. She knew that much for sure. It had been a weight, but a hidden one. They'd been dancing around their futures, she and Andi, both hesitant to say what they really meant. And Susan had finally come to a realization that had shocked her in its simplicity, but had also made her feel pretty bad, and she hadn't been able to decide if she should tell Andi or not, and she'd played it all out in such elaborate detail in her head that now she wasn't sure if she actually had said it.

This all felt like it mattered more because everyone knew Andi was dead now.

"This realization," the therapist—Dr. Carr, his name was Dr. Carr—said, "is it something you feel comfortable talking about?"

The truth was, not really. Susan looked at the walls, clean and white and unadorned aside from some diplomas and a painting of a mountain stream. She was sitting in a big comfortable chair, and she was still wearing her coat, even though it was warm inside and made her feel a little sweaty. It was the same coat she wore all the time. She'd been wearing it that day. She'd wanted to make sure Fiona didn't spit up or wipe her snot on it or something.

Dr. Carr waited. Susan had only been talking to him for maybe half an hour, but he had this disarming manner that made him feel like an old confidante. He would just wait, and she'd find herself talking, and she'd only just heard about Andi a bit ago so inevitably Andi was what she was talking about. Susan was pretty sure her parents had known sooner, but hadn't told her until right before the meeting on purpose, like it might help her process or something.

"I," Susan said, and she looked at her feet. "It was, you see..."

Thirty seconds after she trailed off, Dr. Carr said, "It's okay if you don't want to talk about it."

Susan didn't. She really really didn't.

She told him anyways.

If it happened, it happened more or less like this:

"You're gonna have to get someone else to be your vicarious party animal," Susan said. "I'm not going to college."

The tension she hadn't even known she was carrying lifted. The world came back. It was a cool day, and she'd been sitting on a bench in Centennial Park for a long while, because Andi had been late. That was not unheard of, and it was not something Susan held against her friend. If anything, it was an incentive for Andi to come between her and the wrath of the captains the next time she had trouble motivating herself to be punctual for practice.

Andi was surprised. Of course she was. Susan had been cagey about this. It was... honestly, it was embarrassing around the others. It wasn't shameful with Andi, though. Andi wasn't going to college either.

But why? Why was Susan staying in boring old Seattle? Wasn't her family kind of, okay, maybe not rich to the point where they couldn't call themselves upper middle class, but at least rich to the point where that description strained credulity a little? Susan could go basically anywhere that'd take her—and somewhere would take her, as long as she passed all her classes.

"Yeah," Susan said. "I guess. It's just..."

Even here, in this company, she couldn't vocalize what she actually thought. It hurt.

"I'm not very good at school," she said. "I never have been. I never will be."

What she meant was, "I'm just not smart enough."

Maybe that wasn't quite right. It was hard to say. Sometimes Susan felt really smart. This was mostly the case when it came to things she liked doing. She was like a genius when it came to cheering her friends up and knowing what they needed and getting along with people. She could talk for ages about why Third Eye Blind was one of the absolute best bands from the Nineties, and she'd be confident in her points. If she liked a guy, she could get him to like her back, and if he turned out to be a terrible kisser she could let him down gently. When it came to algebra, though, for a long time trying to do the work had left her feeling so dumb she wanted to cry. When she'd finally solved that, the solution hadn't been quite what her parents wanted: she'd just stopped trying.

Susan sighed. She looked out into nothing.

So what then? If not college, what next? Work? Trade school? Some sort of training with the family business?

"I don't know," Susan admitted. "I have absolutely no idea."

Well, that was lucky in its own way, wasn't it? The whole world was open in front of her. She could go on a big road trip across the country, or could get a job somewhere cool, or could just sit around and play video games all day if that's what she wanted.

"Maybe," Susan said. "It's... I don't know. I am lucky. I'm so lucky it's not fair. There are so many people who'd give anything just to have the stuff my parents hand to me."

She thought about that. It was true. But something else was true too. Should she say it? This wasn't the first time it had crossed her mind, but somehow, now, today, it felt like maybe she was already admitting things so one more confession couldn't hurt.

"Andi," Susan said, "sometimes I'm... kind of jealous of everyone.

"It's like... everyone's really good at what they do. Iselle's going to make it to U-Dub. I know she is. Kathryn, she can go wherever she wants. Katy has the dojo. Lauren has her science. I think... I think even Alda's going to community college. And I just don't know. I don't know what I want to do. I don't know where I'm going in life, and that scares me."

She looked over at Andi, and at Fiona. She could've stopped. She'd been building momentum, and psyching herself up, but also stalling, giving herself chances to change her mind or back out.

"And," Susan said, "and you have Fiona. Whatever happens, you have her. You're connected."

She'd didn't say some other things. She didn't say she knew it was hard. She did know that, though. She knew that there were all sorts of things she took for granted that Andi couldn't do because of Fiona, but she wasn't about to vocalize that in front of Andi's daughter, even if Fiona would almost certainly not understand.

"You have a purpose."

Susan didn't say that she knew it hadn't been on purpose. She didn't say that she knew she had her own options too. She could, if she really meant it, sleep with the bad kisser and probably have an accident of her own. She wouldn't, of course. That was the thing, the thing she couldn't begin to unpack or explain. Andi had made a mistake, and it had seemed terrifying and life-destroying, but she was making something out of it for herself. Susan couldn't make that choice, but on some level she felt like maybe if somehow it was made for her then things could make sense.

"There's someone who loves you and needs you. You matter."

She didn't say, "I don't."

Susan was looking at everything but Andi and Fiona. It was a gloomy day. She was surprised there were so many people out and about. Sharing this had been a mistake. She'd known it as soon as she opened her mouth—no, known it before, even. She wanted to spring to her feet and run away and hide somewhere and cry, because she felt safe talking to Andi but maybe that was the very thing that would lead her destroy her safety and hurt her friend.

"And you can't remember if you said this?" Dr. Carr's voice was mild yet curious.

"Not really," Susan said. She wasn't sure how true that was. "So much has happened. I got sick, and then Andi—my friends all, well, you know. You know why I'm here."

"Mm," the man said. He scratched something on a notepad. Had he been keeping notes the whole time?

"I don't know what's wrong with me," Susan said. "I don't know why I don't even know what I said. Or didn't say."

Had Andi—would Andi have—been mad? Calm? Hurt?

"Well," Dr. Carr said, "maybe we should approach it from another angle."

"Okay," Susan said. She glanced at the clock on the wall. Her session was almost done, but there would be more. She would, she thought, be coming here for a long time.

"You can't know if you said it," Dr. Carr said. "Let's accept that much. Well then, if you could go back and choose to say it or not, what would you pick?"

Susan froze.

She knew the answer right away.

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Joined: February 18th, 2009, 7:01 am

March 31st, 2018, 6:21 am #10

By the time Kathryn's death was announced, it came as a relief.

Wasn't that terrible? The last of Susan's teammates—and more, too, effectively one of her family members, and the close ones, a sister instead of some distant cousin—was dead, and it was a relief. Susan wasn't going to tell anyone that, she thought. It probably wasn't true. She'd spill the beans to Dr. Carr or her parents or someone, and soon everyone would know. It would spread little by little. It would maybe get back to all the families of the team, and it would be one more thing to divide them. It would help make sure that certain wounds scarred instead of healing. Susan would be cast out by the Nguyens at least, but maybe Iselle's moms would have her back. She'd never quite be at home around any of them again, though. If she died in some freak accident, they'd be sad, the parents of her dead friends, but maybe they'd be relieved too. She thought they would, and she thought they wouldn't admit it either.

The thing about being dead was it was easier to forgive and accept posthumously. Kathryn was gone, so now it was still a horrible senseless tragedy that she'd killed Iselle but Susan could love the girl again. She could put whatever she wanted on Kathryn. Kathryn could've been tearing herself up until the very last second over her mistakes, running them through her head and wishing to her final breath that she could give her own life to undo her mistakes. So that's how it had actually been. That was what Susan was deciding, and there was no living Kathryn to complicate the narrative or challenge that decision.

The one who had come back was Mara Montalvo. Susan was happy for Mara. She'd voted for the girl to be class vice president, what felt like an entire lifetime ago. She hadn't done so with much enthusiasm, of course. Who cared about a class vice presidential election? Susan actually couldn't recall if Mara had won or not. She still didn't care. Mara was a popular girl, who maybe had kind of a mean streak. She'd killed a bunch of faces and names that rang familiar from crowded classrooms and stuffy parties, but that didn't matter all that much.

It was a good ending. Or at least, it was good enough.

Susan ate dinner with her family the night after the broadcast finally ended, and it was delicious. Black pepper beef, heavy on the pepper, tender meat and crunchy bell peppers in red and green like it was Christmas. A few minutes into the meal, she admitted her relief at Kathryn's death. It was earlier than she'd expected but she felt better once it was out there. Her mother stirred the rice and beef around on her plate. Her father looked at Susan, but the look in his eyes was curiosity instead of judgment or fear.

Susan tried to explain but couldn't quite get it right. Everyone was sick of talking about the deaths anyways. This had been hard on her family too. She knew that, but she couldn't help it. It would be hard in the future, probably for a long time, but Susan thought that just tonight she might be able to channel a little levity.

So, between mouthfuls, she told them something totally different that she'd picked up somewhere along the way.

There's an old joke that goes like this:

There are these two best friends, named Isaac and Cameron, and they're totally inseparable. They grow up together, go through school together, get jobs at the same place. The thing that holds them together over the years is a shared pastime. They are completely in love with baseball. They met at a tee-ball group when they could barely walk, and they played together every year of school, and they're the stars of their work league. They also love watching games on TV, and make their way to Safeco Field whenever they can. Baseball is the center of their existences, and each is the only one that can keep up with the other's passion.

They're in the prime of their lives, mid-twenties. They're happy and healthy, but there are still some moments where darker thoughts sneak up on them. One day, they're talking and the subject turns to death.

"I don't mind dying," Isaac says, "except for one thing."

"Oh?" says Cameron. "What's that?"

"I just can't help wondering if they play baseball in Heaven," Isaac replies.

Cameron thinks about this a bit.

"I sure hope they do," he says.

The pair think a while, and then they come to an agreement: whoever dies first, if at all possible, will come back and inform the other on the existence or lack thereof of American's Favorite Pastime in the afterlife.

Two days later, when they're carpooling to work, a van blows through a red light and crushes in the passenger side of their truck. Isaac is instantly killed, splattered all over the inside of the windshield, but Cameron sustains only superficial wounds.

Time passes. Cameron gives a tearful speech at Isaac's funeral. He grieves and then he moves on, even though he can't help blaming himself a little since he was driving that day. He gets married, has a few kids. He gets promoted, becomes the company president. But, from time to time, he's still haunted by thoughts of his friend. And he can never forget their promise. Well, he thinks to himself, I guess they must not play baseball wherever he's gone.

And then, twenty years later, Cameron comes home from work. His wife's out of town with the kids, visiting her parents, and the Mariners are playing the Yankees. He just wants to plop down on the couch and watch, but when he opens the door he sees that the TV is already on. There's already somebody sitting on the couch, and as he gets closer, he's shocked to find it's Isaac, looking just like he did the morning he died.

"Isaac," Cameron stammers, "what are you doing here?"

"Well," Isaac says, "I came to fulfill my promise."

Cameron is shocked, but more than that he's curious. This is beyond belief, but he has a burning need to know. After all, his friend has come back from the dead to answer this curiosity.

"Well?" Cameron says. "You've gotta tell me. Do they play baseball in Heaven?"

"I have some good news and some bad news," Isaac says. "The good news is, yes. They do play baseball in Heaven. I'm the captain of a team, actually."

"That's amazing," Cameron says. But he can't quite let himself become overwhelmed by delight just yet. "What's the bad news, though?"

"Well," Isaac says, looking away, "the bad news is we've been in dire need of a pitcher. It's been decided that you're up tomorrow."