It’s 7:39 am when they find out and Kameron’s still just laying in bed, swiping through Instagram.

The time of day doesn’t particularly matter, suddenly, so when she finds herself standing at the top of the stairs she pads into the kitchen and opens the refrigerator. Cold air licks goosebumps across her collarbones as she picks out two bottles from the bottom shelf, grinding her teeth because the thirteen still left over don’t seem like nearly enough.

Kaylyn is waiting behind the fridge’s door when it sighs shut. They look at each other like two sides of a mirror, stuck in a snowbank layer of silence that lasts somewhere between four minutes or four years, she isn’t sure. Then Kaylyn’s taking one of the bottles and the two of them pop the caps off in unison.

“No shit,” Kaylyn goes.

They turn on the television for the sake of hearing someone talk before following each other through the back sliding glass door and onto the deck. The trees are all standing stoic, watching, like they’d known about this beforehand and weren’t sure how to tell either of them. Birds are trilling, chirping too cheerfully considering the circumstances and if she could shoot them out of the branches with a look she would.

She calls her boyfriend first because it’s what she’s supposed to do, because as much as she hates talking on the phone at least it’s something to keep her occupied. Jay answers on the first ring and she almost just hangs up.

“Oh my god, Kameron. I’m so sorry… I’m really, really sorry.”

Her eyebrows pinch together because she doesn’t like the way he says it. Even through the mild static of her cell phone’s speaker he sounds flat, his voice so thick with detachment it’s like he’s rehearsed the words. Not like that could be possible, of course, part of her knows she can’t blame him for any of this, but another tiny part of her does anyway. She taps the butt of an unlit cigarette on the weathered railing of the deck, trying to map out the remainder of the conversation and figure out which direction might be easiest. But she hesitates too long and he asks, “Are you gonna come home?”

Kameron looks over at Kaylyn but she’s deep in her own phone call, her eyes all disconnected and flickering, like eventually she’ll find the blink that takes her back to the days she remembers before she woke up this morning.

“No,” she decides for both of them. “No, we’re staying.”

There’s something knotting up in her gut, threatening to turn over and chew her up from the inside out so she settles for draining the back-half of her beer to pacify the ache. Then she’s digging her lighter out of her pocket and lifting it to her mouth, almost forgetting that he’s on the other end of the line until his voice buzzes in her ear again.

“Are you okay?”

It’s a palpably insensitive sort of question because of course she isn’t. Her lips press into a tight line as she inhales, and she pulls in until it scalds down between her bones, crawls up along her spine, billows against the backs of her eyelids. Gray clouds come seeping out her nose like thick, ghostly snakes as she goes, “I guess.”

“Do you want me to drive up there?”

He’s trying, at least, Kameron can give him that much.

“No.”

The bright, orange light dangling from her mouth creeps closer to her fingers with a second drag. This time it catches in her throat, and she bites back a cough because she can feel it turning into a laugh. There is a lot she means to say but at the same time there is nothing at all; if she had it in her she would ask what his coming up to the Tahoe cabin would accomplish besides wasting a tank of gas. But the minimal amount of oxygen finding its way into her chest is hardly enough to manage one word at a time, not to mention the soured smoke she’s sucking down like a nonrenewable resource.

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah,” Kameron likes the familiar taste of the lie on her tongue, and even after three months of dating he won’t know the difference. “I’m okay. Should prolly call my mom.”

He might say something else but Kameron can’t be sure because she’s already flipping her phone over on the table.

“I need to talk to Logan,” she doesn’t say it to Kaylyn as much as she just says it out loud. Across the table Kaylyn shrugs noncommittally just as Jasen shuffles drowsily out onto the deck.

Her brother isn’t exactly one for talking, but the question his eyes flick between them is loud enough to hear. There are right and wrong ways of saying it, Kameron knows, but she also knows that no matter how it gets out it’ll hang heavy in the air.

“Cadence died.”

Kaylyn doesn’t ease into it. She lays the two words on thick and enunciates each syllable like they hurt, like they’re splinters she wants pulled out from under her skin. Kameron decides it sounds more satisfying, that she prefers it like this, no skirting around a ‘she passed away,‘ like some strong gust of wind carried her off when they weren’t paying attention.

She wonders then, what happens to the rest of a triangle if one of the sides just disappears.

Jasen stands so quietly, like he is trying very, very hard not to be seen, or to be heard. After a heartbeat he turns and stalks back into the kitchen, and when Kameron strains her ears she can hear the refrigerator door, another cap hissing off a bottle.

Then he comes back outside, each step creaking deep in the wood, and as he pours the beer out over the deck all the birds stop singing to watch.

~

“What the hell? When did you guys even start dating? Also, what about that Logan kid?”

Kameron can’t help the grin that creeps in place of her mouth because the relationship is still new enough. Fresh in that kind of way that makes it feel like a lie she wants to be caught in. Cadence swats at her arm when she doesn’t answer right away, sending a heated blush flaring into her cheeks.

“Oh my god, Cade, Logan’s just like, my best friend. But with me and Jay, I don’t know, it just…” When Kameron really thinks about it, she isn’t sure what to say. (She knows how it used to be, how she could ramble on about a boy for hours with Cadence always wanting to hear all of it, but now when she tries she can’t exactly remember that sense of preoccupation). “It just sort of happened.”

“That’s so cute,” Cadence is always buzzing with it, whatever it is, but it’s been rubbing off on Kameron long enough that she always feels like she’s on the brink of a fairy tale. “He actually totally looks like this guy I go to AA with.”

Cadence plays it off so easy she might as well just be trying out some gluten-free diet, but then again, she’s been living in Oregon long enough now that she’s probably that too. Kaylyn’s asking how that’s going because she already knows, but Kameron’s never been good at catching up on the important things so she just settles for asking the obvious.

“Is that one new?” She points to three lines of ink on Cadence’s forearm: a little triangle tattoo, just vaguely uneven, with one line only barely shorter than the rest. It’s faded in that homemade sort of way Kameron saw a lot of in college, almost like a distracted doodle someone sketched into the margin of their notes but wasn’t particularly fond of.

“Oh, it’s just from some ex-boyfriend, hella stupid guy, my mom wasn’t exactly stoked about it.” Cadence tinkles with a wind chime laugh, smiling like she always does, like she can’t figure out why everyone else is taking everything so seriously. She catches Kameron’s left hand and turns her arm over to examine a black quote etched into her skin. “Dude, you have a new one too!”

Cadence runs a thumb over the typewriter lettering, and it occurs to Kameron that in the eight months since she’s had it done, no one’s actually touched it before.

“It’s so pretty,” Cadence goes, “Really beautiful, I love it–”

“What do you think, sis?”

Kameron blinks and she’s in her parents’ backyard. Slumped in a creaky lawn chair with the garden hose draped across her lap, her bare feet wet from her unintentional drowning of an unsuspecting flower bed.

She looks over and her father’s standing on the porch; his shirt and hands dirty from yard work, his weathered, abalone eyes watching with that practiced patience he manages just for her, because he knows best how hard it is to get into her head now.

“Whaddya say bout Meya, sis?” he says again. He nods his head, gesturing to a German Shepherd sprawled out in the afternoon sun. Kameron follows his gaze when he whistles, and the old family dog heaves herself up from the grass to trot stiffly across the yard. Her back legs shake as she tries sitting beside him, until finally she shifts awkwardly to one side, tail overzealously thumping the porch.

Kameron kinks the hose. She takes a deep breath and tastes the smell of the watered-down soil in the back of her throat.

“I dunno, Dad.”

“She does that, goes rippin’ around the yard after Red and Sophie, all excited. Then the next day she’s sore and limping and whining. Think she’d learn her lesson, it’s gonna catch up to her eventually.”

“I think she just forgets, for a little, til it comes back,” Kameron says.

He ruffles Meya’s ears and goes, “Poor girl.”

~

All the Facebook posts are the same. A whole bunch of names she’s never heard, people typing passively away at their keyboards to proclaim some tiny fraction of friendship, because only now that she’s gone do any of them feel that inexplicable pressure to write to her. There are the I Miss Yous and the Thought Of You Todays, the ones who are two and three and four weeks late, only just finding out because they happened to run into someone else’s comments.

Maybe it’s because she’s a writer, but Kameron knows better than the rest of them: it’s all only words. The things that people write down and type up because they didn’t do something or anything and now they’ve gotten to the part where they know they’ve run out of time.

Just letters pushed together and spaced in different ways, and if anyone sits down long enough they can come up with a pretty pattern.

But Kameron keeps scrolling through her computer, post after post, until Jay eases his hand onto her knee and reminds her she’s not the only person in the room. Her mother is up in the kitchen, giving her a half-heartedly stern look, so she flips the laptop shut and slides it away, doing her best to focus her attention on whatever old movie’s been left running on the television. She can feel him watching her, still rubbing his thumb in circles on her jeans, and so she allows him to twine his fingers with hers because she doesn’t particularly like the thought of eye contact.

“You okay?” he murmurs.

Her mouth forces a smile that makes her stomach knot together. When he tugs her hand up and presses a gentle kiss into her knuckles, she has to turn her face away to hide the way her nose wrinkles up in protest, one side of her lip threatening to curl. Kameron swallows hard and squeezes his hand tighter because she is trying very desperately to hold on.

Some aversion to human contact has gotten under her skin, and since the morning Cadence went it’s sunk deep in her bones. A creeping nausea gnaws the backside of her ribcage until finally, finally, Jay lets go of her hand to look at his phone.

It’s not like she’s suspicious, or nosy, she just glances at the screen out of curiosity, really. He’s texting Chris or Thomas or Kevin, some guy he knew in high school asking him to come out for drinks with the guys.

Not today, man, his thumbs type out, My girl’s going through a tough time.

Kameron’s fingers ball together at the ends of her arms because more than anything, she wants snatch the phone and hurl it across the living room, crush it into a thousand pieces. Her throat’s burning up with all the vicious things she wants to yell at him, her teeth going to work on the inside of her cheek to keep them from spilling out.

“A tough fucking time?” she would yowl like an angry cat, voice so high and strained that it would break in the middle of every curse word. “One of my best friends died, you asshole–”

But as much as she wants to, she doesn’t. He looks startled when she stands abruptly, stalking for the back door, and he moves as if to follow her.

“I’ll be right back,” Kameron doesn’t need to check to see that he stays sitting on the couch. “I just, gotta call someone real quick.”

In the backyard, she waits on the porch for half a second before sitting herself beside the pool and dipping her feet in, struggling to breathe the headache out her nose in slow exhales. With Meya swiping sorry licks into her palm, she dials the number from memory.

“What’s wrong?” He doesn’t need to wait for a hello, he already knows.

“I don’t know how to do this anymore, Logan.”

~

Lila’s new apartment is small, but not too small. At least, compared to the old place she, Kameron, and Jess lived in the year before it’s tiny, but without all three of them sardine-squeezed together it feels sort of luxurious.

Even with only eleven people there smiling and drinking, the lack of extra space multiplied by the amount of time it’s been since they’ve all seen each other makes their modest pregame twist into a raging party. Stars peek through open windows at all the short dresses and loosened ties, flickering into the tequila shots they tip past each other’s lips.

Kameron arcs a ping pong ball down the length of the plastic, fold-out table dominating the hallway, but Lila swats it away at the other end. They’re both grinning, drunk enough that the rules don’t matter anymore, so she snatches Lila’s next shot out of the air and lobs it to where Jess and her new girlfriend are sitting mouth to mouth on the couch. It misses, singing with laughing snaps as it bounces off along the hardwood floor, and Kameron melts into inebriated giggles as she chases it through a miniature forest of high heeled feet.

“Lila, Liiiila! Look what I foun–” By the time she shoulders back to the table, trilling enthusiastically, vaguely slurring, there’s already a new game going and Lila’s not there. Her eyebrows pinch and her bottom lip pouts as she tries calculating the probabilities of where her old roommate is, but all she knows is that it’s starting to get difficult to think through haziness of the music and the conversations and the hard liquor.

She reaches for the doorknob of Lila’s closed bedroom and her first guess is right.

A hand fixes itself to her wrist and tugs her inside, swings the door shut hurriedly behind her. All the intoxicated chatter is muffled, and Kameron smiles because she likes how everything takes a deep breath and slows down — but Lila has her ear pressed against the door, listening, making the air suddenly so heavy with secrets that she can taste them.

“Okay, I think we’re good,” Lila whispers.

She hears it before she sees it.

Tap, tap, tap, goes Lila’s debit card on the tiny mirror, clicking in a sharp tune. Kameron watches her cut up the little pile of powdered snowflakes, tapping and sliding, tapping and sliding, organizing it into four neat lines.

“Just don’t tell Jess, okay?”

Kameron already guessed that much so she just says, “I’d prolly be the one whose heart just like, stops the first time.”

“That’s what I thought,” A rolled dollar bill between Lila’s fingers licks down the mirror and one of the lines is gone. Lila sniffles and rubs her nose. “I lived.”

Maybe she’s thinking it over enough that Lila can see the temptation turning in her eyes, or maybe she’s just being too obvious about it, but she doesn’t realize she’s fixated on the three lines in a row until Lila says her name and she blinks out of the frosty trance.

“Try it.”

Lila doesn’t ask and Kameron doesn’t exactly care, because part of her is racing with the thrill of just seeing the thin, plastic card tap-tap-tapping. Her heart is matching the rhythm, trying to leap out of her chest, hoping to recklessly throw itself with enough force to drag her back out the door and into the hallway. Jess isn’t there, putting them at only two out of three, sixty-six point seven percent or something, but Kameron figures the numbers are as much in her favor as they’ll ever be.

When she takes the dollar bill and touches her nose to one end, the glassy version of herself looking up from inside the mirror is smiling, so she fires two rails up between her eyes and smiles back even wider.

Logan finds her at whatever party they all end up at, and he might only ask it once but she hears it echoing all night because he wants to know if she’s okay, and her mouth is numbed with leftover, snowy confidence but she keeps smiling when she tells him, “No, no, she’s not alright.”

~

Ever since the eighth grade her mother taught her that breakups weren’t the kind of conversations you had without looking someone in the eye. It’s part of common courtesy, she would say, like it was the sort of thing everyone learned in etiquette school.

She stands in the liquor aisle of the supermarket, opening the doors and changing her mind and drawing with a finger on the foggy glass. One of the bag boys shuffles by awkwardly, watching her stuff her hands into the pocket of her bistro apron and count out her wrinkled bills.

“We’re closing in ten minutes,” the kid mumbles.

Kameron knows she’s being selfish when she calls up Jay on her way home from work but she does it anyway. (She’s made a bad habit of this, figuring that the rules don’t exactly apply to her now, like she’s electing to remove herself from the game without consideration for any of the other players). The fresh, sweating twelve-pack of Coors Light is waiting in the passenger seat and she thinks about getting to the first, crisp sip after this is all over.

He picks up on the third ring and although she’s grateful for the extra time to compose her thoughts, she can hear that he already sees it coming.

“I can’t do this anymore,” the words are certain and even at first, but then she can’t remember if they’re the right ones and by the time she gets to the end her voice comes out so weak. She tries to correct herself, “I don’t–”

But his agitation sparks up instantaneously because he’s already prepared his ammunition, rising through the speaker until he’s yelling at her, like the louder he is the more likely it’ll be that she’ll stay. Then his voice crumbles and he’s sniffling and she wants to be the one that’s yelling now, because what right does he have to bring on her what she hasn’t even allowed from herself.

Whatever else he keeps saying Kameron doesn’t hear, but somewhere through the endless stream of his bargains and pleas she catches him when he goes, “You’re the one, Kam, I’m never going to love anyone the way I’ll always love you, you’re the one–”

“No.” She can’t wait, she’s drinking from one of the bottles and turning her words into cold steel. “No, I’m not.”

Kameron isn’t sure when she pulled over but when he finally hangs up she’s idling on the side of the road, the beer scalding the warm palm of her hand. She fumbles with her cell phone, deciding she needs someone’s confirmation of her decision, but the first three letters she types in for the text message recipient are C-A-D.

The phone leaps from her fingers and drops somewhere near the gas pedal.

Her spine straightens out of habit, her head feeling too weighted to hold up, but the deep, dark waves of remorse that wash through her insides keep trying to turn her bones in ways they cannot go. Kameron wants to knot and curl under the pressure of it because the ducts of her eyes are burning and she is unfamiliar with the sensation, she wants to sink because she has been trying so hard to keep swimming and the water is still tugging her down.

Each breath that drags through her lungs is shakier than the last, so she opens the car door and paces, sucking desperately at the twinge of rainclouds she tastes in the evening air. She’s counting her steps one at a time, just trying to ease herself, but then she’s heaving with every dry sob, cracking through her like jagged lines in a sidewalk.

The beer hanging in her hand is too heavy and she slings it shattering against the pavement.

“Stop, stop, just STOP IT!” Kameron shrieks, and now she has the rest of them. One, two, three, bottle after bottle after bottle. The only thing she can see is the blurring headlights of her car, but she composes a ringing symphony of splintered glass, sends fractured, glittering teardrops scattering into the thick foam slicking the road. “GODDAMNIT!”

And the night is so suffocatingly black, all the shadows curling off from the moon’s apologetic glow sneering at her because they are hungry, because they have been waiting for her to break.

She screams and screams and screams and still no one is there.

~

“Do you ever talk to her?”

The question is so sudden, the sort of out-of-the-blue that says her mother’s been spending the entire conversation trying to figure out when to ask. They’re both bundled together on the couch, watching a recorded episode of Long Island Medium, and one of the cats curled in Kameron’s lap flicks an ear like he’s interested as to how she might answer.

“Who?” she blurts, because she doesn’t catch on at first.

“Cadence,” her mom answers matter-of-factly and Kameron’s heart blows out a hole somewhere in the right ventricle and proceeds to tank into her stomach. “Do you ever talk to her?”

“I mean I accidentally text her sometimes,” Kameron says after what feels like a long time, doing her best to accommodate the Titanic-esque accident occurring between her lungs. She burrows her fingers into the cat’s belly until his locomotive purring vibrates in her knuckles. “I dunno, it just doesn’t seem like a real thing.”

“I didn’t hug her the last time she visited,” Her mother’s mouth curls with a sad smile. “I have dreams with her, she comes in the room and gives me a hug. I talk to her, all the time, and she says ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ She just keeps saying that, ‘I’m sorry, it was an accident, I’m so sorry.'”

Kameron doesn’t know she’s jealous until the cat lifts his head from her lap to blink at one corner of the living room, because she thinks maybe he sees her too.

~

The silver hoop hanging from his septum makes him look like a bull, Kameron decides. There’s intricate patterns of black ink sewn all over, from the lengths of his arms all the way up to the edge of his bearded jawline, his skin one giant sheet of treasure map. She supposes that means he must be good at what he does. His fingers envelop hers when they shake hands, burly and rugged like a lumberjack, and she tilts her head just fractionally to read the thick letters spelling K-A-T-S on his knuckles.

“My name’s Dylan,” he says, and Kameron thinks it might be a little too soft of a name for how the rest of him looks.

“Kameron,” she says, (her own name never sounds right in her mouth).

“So, is this going to be your first one?” It’s a question she was expecting — something about her thin arms and too-big eyes always makes them ask — so she grins and shakes her head, holds up four fingers. Dylan’s eyebrows shoot up and one of his lip rings pulls up into the corner of his smile. He takes the small piece of paper to look at what she’s drawn, and she dares a glance to see that his other hand spells G-A-M-E. “Alright, alright. Just goin nice and simple?”

“It’s for a friend.”

Now she lets her eyes meet his and they’re a leathered, tree-sap brown that puts her at ease. She wipes sweaty palms on the legs of her jeans when he nods to his station, following him quietly and laying on the bench he gestures to.

“At the very bottom of my right shoulder blade.” Dylan answers her instruction by testing one of the guns, the telltale thrumming making all of her relax with one, collective exhale. “Since it’s my shooting arm. And just a little uneven with that one line.”

The cold, sticky rubber of his gloved hand lays gently in the middle of her back. “Ready?”

It’s the entire world’s population of bees swarming under her skin all at once. The needle tears her open and threads her back together a hundred times over, sending vibrations zigzagging deep into her limbs until it’s leaking into the marrow of her bones. Her lips curve in a tight smile and he goes, “So, what’s the story?”

She waits until he gets to the end of the first line, breathes in the dull, aching throb because she loves the taste.

“There were three of us.”

~

It’s only been a few months since she last came down to visit, but when she steps through the front door the party erupts with a collective roar that makes it feel like she’s been gone for years.

“Kameron! Oh my gawd, you’re freakin’ here!”

A buzzing crowd swallows her, thick with a poignant flood of shrill happiness that gets her grinning. Big and genuine and stupid, a real smile so out of practice that her mouth is hurting before long. And because none of them know, she can be recklessly thrilled, lively and giggling without feeling the thin strings of guilt threatening to unthread her seams.

Someone’s shoving a beer into her hand and cracking it open for her, but after two sips she’s already tired of the flavor it leaves in the back of her throat. Kameron’s nose is wrinkling with a smirk of distaste and when she looks up from the gold-and-silver rim of the can, his laughing, Carolina blue gaze is watching her.

The streams of drunk kids part just enough for them to get to one another.

“Logan!”

“Hey, Kam,” he talks like the smell of rain.

It’s different, no, they’re different. Logan’s hand lingers on her hip after they hug, and for some reason she doesn’t mind it anymore than she can manage to pull her eyes from his. They don’t talk long before his attention is flickering, stealing glances at her lips.

She’s leaning more against him than the wall, suddenly. One of his thumbs traces patterns on the bare skin just above the waist of her jeans. The other hand is easing its way up her left arm to graze over the words tattooed in black typewriter, sending goosebumps tickling down her back and she knows she shouldn’t, she really shouldn’t.

But the fresh ache of the triangle inked into her right shoulder burns a little hotter when they touch and she thinks that’s proof enough for her.

And the rest of the world is churning about them, crashing and turning over and folding back in on itself like a furious ocean, but with his mouth dipping and sewing together with hers they seem to stand so, so still.

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