And I don't believe in God, so I can't be saved. All alone as I've learned to be in this mess I have made.
-Ben Folds Five, "Mess"

I still remember the first time I saw her.

Duncan and I were rollerblading around Neptune, right after my family moved to town. My old friend from the marina was showing me around before I started school the next day.

Veronica was the adorable girl in the green and white soccer uniform who we passed as we skated through the park. She was tearing down the field, two long braids flapping in the wind behind her. When I saw her, I was so flustered that I almost veered off the path. That would have attracted a fair amount of teasing from Duncan, so I instead fixed my gaze back on the pavement and skated on.

In the sixth grade, Veronica was hardly friends with the mighty Kanes, so it was easy to push my thoughts of her from my mind. Oh, sure, I still saw her around school, but we didn't run in the same circles. It was simpler not to remember how damn cute she'd looked in her short shorts and knee socks with her pigtails trailing behind her. So that's how it was.

In eighth grade, Lilly blew into my life, bringing Veronica with her. Enough time had passed that I could easily separate Veronica from the adorable soccer player that had captured my attention two years earlier. Besides, by then, Veronica didn't resemble the girl who I'd been attracted to before.

Gone was the girl who had been vibrant and free and active and outgoing. Instead, she was this quiet, demure girl who seemed like the polar opposite of what I had imagined. It was for the best, really. After all, I had Lilly and no time to think about Veronica and what might have been.

My Hurricane Lilly is gone now, though, and now I have to deal with the aftermath. Her death has changed everything and I don't know how to get things back to how they were. Everyone and everything I used to rely on is gone.

Lilly, my beautiful wonderful Lilly, who sometimes hated me as much as she loved me, is never coming back. I meant what I said to Miss James during our "grief counseling session" – what is so great about living, anyhow? Without Lilly, I don't know what to do anymore.

Duncan's changed over the past year. I know, it makes sense – after all, the guy did lose a sister. It doesn't change the fact that I've lost my best friend to a haze of antidepressants and grief. Yeah, we're still friends in the technical sense, but things just aren't the same anymore.

And then there's Veronica. After Lilly died, our tentative friendship dissolved like it was nothing. She lost her popularity, her access to the 09'er parties – in short, she lost everything that she'd become accustomed to in high school. But unlike when I was twelve, I didn't force memories of her from my mind.

That's partly because she slowly reclaimed the personality I had first glimpsed all those years ago. Sure, she's not exactly the same as she was then. A best friend's death and her mother's subsequent disappearance will do that. Shit happens, and sometimes kids are forced to grow up too fast.

Veronica and I are both prime examples of that.

I hated the thought that I might have something in common with Veronica. After all, she was the girl who chose to support her father over her friends. She was the girl who refused to accept the obvious fact that Abel Koontz killed Lilly.

No matter how much I wanted to forget about her completely, I couldn't. Because every day, I'd see her in the halls at school and remember what fun the four of us had before –before Lilly died, before everything changed, before I did my damndest to fuck up my life as much as possible.

I know how upset Lilly would be if I tried to forget about everything that had happened over the past few years. Still, she can't be happy with what I've said and done to Veronica over these past few months.

I hated how we suddenly had so much in common. Of course, we'd both lost Lilly, but after her mother left, we were both left with dysfunctional families. Not that she knew anything about my fucked up family situation until recently, but we were still alike.

It was despite my better judgment that I went to see her after my mother disappeared. I told myself that it was just because I knew that Veronica could get to the bottom of whatever happened – which was true, to some extent. But it was more than that.

These past few weeks, I've found myself letting Veronica get closer and closer. A part of it is my own damn fault for seeking out her help in the first place. After all, Veronica's own mom disappeared not so long ago, so she understands what I'm going through better than anyone.

That's exactly what made it so damn easy to break down in front of her, at the Sunset Regent. I don't want anyone's pity, but Veronica could really empathize with what had just happened. She understood because she is like me.

I've tried to put distance between us, tried to rebuild the walls around myself that she's climbed so easily. But it's hard. It's just so damn hard.

You see, Veronica knows me like no one else. She knows how much it hurts to have a mother leave you. She knows how much it hurts to have someone you love die when you least expect it. In short, she just knows.

When I look at Veronica now, I don't see the Veronica I once knew. Instead, I see the Veronica I watched that day on the soccer field. Instead, I see Lilly.

I lost Lilly over a year ago. Now, as I watch Veronica hustle some guy into the women's bathroom, it's like I'm losing her all over again.

If I hadn't been such a fucking jackass after Lilly died, Veronica and I might still be friends – actual, genuine friends – and I might have more than a snowball's chance in hell of ever winning her heart.

Instead, I insulted her, ridiculed her, and tormented her endlessly. Now that we're all but certain that my mom really did jump off the bridge, we have no reason to talk anymore. All that's left to do is write her a check to complete the business transaction.

It's like I'm losing Lilly all over again. And this time, I won't be getting another chance.

END