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One of Us Is Back: Part 2 – Chapter 41


Tuesday, July 28

“Are you sure you should be going to a party?” my mother asks anxiously.

“It’s going to be the most mellow party ever,” I say, rising slowly and carefully from her living room sofa. My head doesn’t hurt much anymore, unless I stand up too fast. “All I’m doing is going from your couch to a lounge chair in Bronwyn’s backyard.”

“I know, but you have to take it easy,” Mom says, wrapping an arm around me like I need her help getting to the front door. I don’t, but I let her hang on anyway. “I can’t go through anything like last week ever again.” A pleading note creeps into her voice as I wave to Addy, who’s parked in Mom’s driveway. “I love your friends, you know I do, but you can’t keep putting yourself in these situations—”

“I won’t, Mom,” I interrupt. I won’t have to is what I really mean, because I think Bayview has finally settled down for good. But it seems like bad luck to say that out loud.

“Okay. Give me a hug,” she says.

I do, and she clings for so long that I clear my throat and say, “The party’s going to be over by the time I get there.”

“All right,” Mom says, wiping her eyes as she releases me. “Tell Addy that I hope she has a wonderful time in Peru.”

“I will.”

When I get closer to Addy’s car, I realize that she’s not alone—somebody’s in the back seat, leaning over the console and talking animatedly. “I’m in Murder Club now,” Vanessa announces as I open the car door. Addy visibly winces, and Vanessa adds, “Sorry, are we not calling it that anymore? My bad. Hi, Nate. How’s your head?”

“Still in one piece,” I say, buckling my seat belt. “How was Cape Cod?”

“Amazing,” Vanessa says brightly. “Keely says hi.”

Addy’s driving slowly and carefully down my mother’s street, her eyes on the road. “And how was Cape Cod for you?” I ask.

“Good,” she says quietly, pausing at a stop sign.

I lean forward and try to catch her eye, but she’s still staring straight ahead. “You don’t sound sure about that,” I say.

“It really was,” Addy says. “We had a lot of fun. It was kind of like old times, except we were all a lot nicer to one another—”

“Keely and Addy were especially nice to one another,” Vanessa adds. “But it’s fine. I’m a good third wheel; I know when to disappear.”

“How about now?” I say, and she leans back against her seat with a loud sigh. “You okay?” I ask Addy in a lower voice.

“I’m fine. Honestly,” Addy says. “It was a good trip. It’s just…”

“I know,” I say.

I got physically beat up the most in this round, but Addy…Addy, once again, took the hardest emotional hit. Jake died in front of her, and even though there’s no way she could have stopped it, she’s Adelaide fucking Prentiss, so of course she wanted to try. Despite everything Jake did to her—and would’ve done, given the chance.

“It’ll get better,” I tell her. Addy just nods, and I add, “You can’t save everyone, Addy.”

Her voice catches. “I know.”

“But you did save me. Literally, this time.”

She sends me a faintly puzzled look and asks, “When did I save you figuratively?”

“When you made me go to Bronwyn’s piano recital and tell her how I felt. I would’ve been stubborn and stupid enough to let the best thing in my life pass me by if it weren’t for you.”

The ghost of a smile flits across Addy’s face. “You would have told her eventually.”

“Not without a push,” I say. “I didn’t think I deserved anything good, but you? You wouldn’t shut up about it.” Addy laughs a little, and I add, “You’re a hell of a friend.”

There’s nothing but silence for a few beats, other than Vanessa’s loud sniff from the back seat. Then Addy puts on her blinker for Bronwyn’s street and says, “Cut it out. You’re going to make me cry.”

I wait until she pulls into Bronwyn’s driveway to respond. “You know what? I always hated being an only child, and it’s kind of like I’ve got a sister now.”

“Oh my God,” Addy says tearfully. “I’m wearing mascara, you jerk.”

She shifts into Park and flings her arms around my neck, and I hold her while she sobs on my shoulder. I’ve spent a lot of time with Addy this week, and I can tell when she’s about to break down. If she doesn’t get it out of the way now, she’s going to have a miserable time at the party. Vanessa, proving that she’s a pretty good third wheel after all, stays quiet until Addy finally pulls away.

“You good?” Vanessa asks in such a kind voice that I turn around to make sure it’s actually her.

“I’m good,” Addy says, wiping her eyes. “Let’s go.”

We’re the last ones to show up. Bronwyn’s backyard is in full bloom, trees sparkling with lights that she and Maeve strung this afternoon. A picnic table is set up along a smooth stretch of grass, and the smell of grilled hamburgers wafts our way.

“I bet you anything that Kris is doing the cooking,” Addy says. Other than her red eyes, she looks a lot happier than she did when I first got into her car.

“I’ll take that bet, and you’ll lose, because Javier just bought some kind of space-age grill that nobody’s allowed to touch,” I say as we turn the corner and the Rojases’ deck comes into sight—along with Bronwyn’s father, flipping burgers. “Told you.”

“Hey, there they are!” Cooper calls, waving at us. He’s the hero of Bayview once again; the guy who, along with Luis, swooped in at the last minute to save the day. Even though it’s more complicated this time; for one thing, he couldn’t stop Chelsea from killing Jake and taking off, and for another, I don’t think either Phoebe’s or Addy’s life was really in danger. As for me, I’ve made peace with the fact that Gavin bashed me over the head out of panic. I’m not worried about him ever trying to finish the job; wherever he is, I’m pretty sure his top priority is keeping his distance.

“Here we are,” Addy says, waving back.

There’s a lot of hugging after that. I mean, a lot. Anyone who didn’t know that we’d all just been through some serious trauma bonding would have thought we hadn’t seen each other in years. When everyone’s finally done, we sit down at the table. Kris and Vanessa fall deep into conversation about his sneakers, which she seems to admire a lot. Stranger things have happened, I guess, than those two becoming friendly.

“You guys excited for Germany next month?” I ask Cooper.

He grins. “Man, I can’t wait. I’ve only ever met Kris’s family over FaceTime.” He reaches across the table and taps Phoebe on her arm. “You’re gonna check in on Nonny while I’m gone, right?”

“Oh yeah,” Phoebe says. She’s sitting next to Knox and looks happier than she has in a long time. “We have big plans. She’s going to teach me bridge, and I’m going to introduce her to reality dating shows. You sure you want to go to Germany and miss all that?”

Cooper laughs. “Tough call, but…nonrefundable tickets,” he says.

“Everyone’s leaving,” Luis sighs. “You guys, Addy and Maeve—”

“Only for a month,” Maeve points out. “Then we come back and Bronwyn leaves.” She wipes an imaginary tear.

“And I’ll start applying to college, finally,” Addy says. “That’s just how it is now, I guess. Constant change.”

“Not for those of us who still need to finish high school,” Knox says.

Phoebe leans her head on his shoulder. “Just one more year,” she says.

“Then I’m getting out of this hellhole and going straight to Europe,” Maeve says. Luis blinks at her and she adds, “What? You can come. Wouldn’t you like to earn your first Michelin star in Paris?”

At first, Luis looks like he’s trying to calculate the distance between the Eiffel Tower and the nearest beach. Then he grins and says, “I wouldn’t not like it.”

“You know, I used to hate Bayview,” Kris says, glancing at Cooper. “All I knew about it, at first, was that it was the place where Cooper couldn’t be himself. Then it turned into something worse. I think we can all agree that nobody in their right mind would ever willingly move here. And yet…” He gazes around Bronwyn’s backyard. “In a weird way, it’s home now. And I might even miss it while I’m gone.”

There’s a long moment of silence, until Cooper says—in his calmest, most patient voice—“Kris, babe, you’re out of your ever-loving mind.”

Everyone cracks up as Javier Rojas calls, “Burgers are ready!” There’s a mad scramble for the deck, but I put an arm around Bronwyn’s waist to keep her beside me.

“Hold up,” I say.

Her eyes go straight to the scar on my temple. “You feeling okay?” she asks anxiously. I’ve gotten woozy in front of her a few times this week.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I say. “But Addy got me thinking, with all that talk about change. You’re leaving soon, and—”

“And we won’t have any of the problems we had last year,” Bronwyn says earnestly, grabbing both of my hands in hers. “We’ll talk every day, and I’ll come home every chance I get. And you’ll visit me, right?”

“I will. I’m not worried about that. It’s just—look, Bronwyn, I know you have a five-year plan, and a ten-year plan”—I can tell she’s about to interrupt me, so I start talking faster—“and so do I. I have a fifty-year plan, and you’re in it. It revolves around you, mostly. Because I’ve been in love with you since the fifth grade, and that’s never going to change.” She smiles then, and I turn her hands around in mine, running my thumb down the bare index finger of her left hand. “I don’t have a ring or anything, because I know we still have a ways to go before that makes sense, and also, you don’t like diamonds—”

“They’re not sustainable,” she says breathlessly.

“I know. So when the time comes, it’ll be something different, but—that time’s going to come, okay?” I gaze into her clear gray eyes, my chest aching with how much I love this girl. “I’m going to marry you, Bronwyn Rojas. Just so you know.”

She puts her hands on either side of my face and pulls me close enough to kiss. But first, she says, “Oh, I know.”


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