By Laura Schiller
Based on: Before I Fall
Copyright: Lauren Oliver
"Let's get the hell out of here," said Lindsay, linking arms with Ally and Elody as they walked away from the grave.
All through the funeral service – the cloying scent of lilies, the minister's age-cracked voice droning on about ashes to ashes, dust to dust, Rob Cokran looking gobsmacked, Kent McFuller's eyes hidden beneath his bowler hat, Mr. and Mrs. Kingston ten years older, the audible sobs and sniffles of their classmates (including Anna Cartullo and Lauren Lornet, of all people – what right did they have to show up?) – had made her positively dizzy with rage. At what or whom, she didn't care to examine; all she knew was that Samantha Kingston was dead, and that everything about this was utterly, sickeningly wrong.
When she'd said "love you to death", she didn't mean for Sam to take it literally.
Glancing at her friends on either side, she barely recognized them. All three were dressed in black – stylishly, of course, but there was no hiding the hollows of Ally's cheekbones or the black stains on Elody's face. Trust that girl to forget her waterproof mascara, Lindsay thought out of habit, but her heart wasn't in it.
She wanted out – out of this biting February cold creeping up her pantyhose, away from the stolid marble headstone that had nothing whatsoever to do with pretty, vivacious Sam, out of this whole damned week and back to a time before the crash. If she could hold a gun to God's head to make that happen, she would.
Fuck. Just when I thought it couldn't get worse.
"Keep walking," she ordered, dragging Ally and Elody along when they stopped with her. "Parking lot's this way, people. C'mon."
"Lindsay Edgecombe, I need to talk to you!"
It was Juliet Sykes, her deep, musical voice cutting through the snow with astonishing force. It was the same voice that had denounced them at Kent's party, and the last sound in the world that Lindsay wanted to hear.
In that moment, she knew with whom she should be angry. Letting go of her friends' arms, she turned around.
Black was not a good color on Juliet. It made her pale face and white-blonde hair look more washed-out than ever. But she was standing straight and tall, her eyes sparkling from more than the cold, looking more alive than any Jefferson student had seen her since second grade.
Lindsay walked right up to her, looked her squarely in the eye, and slapped her.
"You!" she snarled. "Why you?! If she had to die, why couldn't she save someone worth it? Someone with a life, someone with friends, someone who'd be missed, for God's sake? Why did she have to die for a worthless freaky psycho like you?"
Juliet listened with no change on her delicate features, except for a pink glow on the cheek that had been struck. It made Lindsay even more furious, and she prepared to lunge for her again – this time to break her nose, rip her angel's hair out by the handful, turn that lovely, confident face into a bloody mess that no one would recognize.
It was Elody's arms around her waist that held her back.
"Lindsay, stop it!" she pleaded, in a voice still hoarse from crying. "Please stop! Sam's grave is right behind us, you just can't … "
"Don't be stupid," Lindsay snapped, trying futilely to ignore her friend's warmth. "What difference does it make which place we're in? Now let me go, okay? This is between me and Sykes."
However, for the first time in years, Elody did not comply. She buried her face in Lindsay's hair and held her even closer.
"No, she's right," Ally chimed in, coming to stand between them and Juliet. Always thin, her grief during the last few days had made her positively gaunt. Her dark eyes burned like coals beneath her swollen eyelids.
"Elody's right. Leave Juliet alone."
Lindsay's mouth opened, but no words came out. Her nails digging into her palms felt sharp enough to draw blood at any moment.
"What I came to tell you," said Juliet, "All of you … is that I don't care. I don't care what names you call me, or what stupid rumors you spread about me, or anything you do. Go ahead. All it will prove – to me, to everyone – is that your friend's sacrifice doesn't matter to you at all. If you say I'm worthless, you're saying Samantha Kingston died for nothing. But she didn't."
Both of Juliet's cheeks were bright pink now, and her voice rang out like a church bell.
"I made up my mind to die that night, but she followed me. She told me it was never too late. She showed me I was worth saving. Now I've made up my mind to live instead, and nothing you can do is going to stop me. Oh, and by the way?"
Lindsay glared, ready to push Elody away and tear Juliet's face off if she said anything insulting.
"I forgive you," said Juliet, with the faintest of smiles.
She walked past them with her head held high on the way to the cemetery gates.
Lindsay did not realize she was crying until she felt the tears slide down her cheeks. If Juliet had set out deliberately to break her spirit, she could not have done better. You're saying Samantha Kingston died for nothing … She told me it was never too late … It was herself Lindsay hated, had hated all along. Sam had died for her crimes, and there was nothing she could do to bring her back.
"What… are you looking at?" she sobbed, trying to meet Ally's look of pity with her customary glare.
Ally ignored this, as only a best friend could. So did Elody, letting go only to take Lindsay's arm. Like an invalid, she found herself being led along the path to the parking lot.
We would love you no matter what, she remembered Sam telling her. Although she could not pinpoint the occasion - for all she knew, it might have been a dream – it had never felt as true as it did now.
"C'mon, Lindz," said Ally. "Let's get you home."