It doesn’t start here.
You’d think it would: two terrified girls in the middle of nowhere, cowering together, eyes bulging at the gun in his hand.
But it doesn’t start here.
It starts the first time I almost die.
The first time, I’m fourteen and Trev’s driving us home from swim practice. Mina has the windows rolled down, her hands dancing to the music, rings glinting in the late afternoon sunlight as we speed past barbed wire fences and scrabbly ranches, the mountains stretching out behind them. We sing along to the radio in the backseat, and Trev laughs at my off-key voice.
It happens fast: the screech of metal on metal, glass everywhere. I’m not wearing my seat belt, and I pitch for- ward as Mina’s scream drowns out the music.
Then everything’s black.
The second time, I’m seventeen and annoyed with Mina. We’re already late, and now she’s turning off the highway, onto Burnt Oak Road.
“Just one little detour. It’ll be quick, I promise.” “Fine,” I say, giving in easy, like always.
This is a mistake.
The first time, I wake up in a hospital room, hooked to an
IV and beeping machines.
There are tubes everywhere. I claw at the one down my throat, panic climbing inside me, and someone grabs my hand away. It takes me a second to realize it’s Mina beside me, to meet her gray eyes and focus enough to let her words sink in.
“You’re going to be fine,” she promises. I stop fighting and trust her.
It’s only later that I learn she’s lying.
The second time, I remember everything. The beam of the car’s brights. The shooter’s eyes shining at us through his mask. How steady his finger is on that trigger. Mina’s hand clutching mine, our nails digging into each other’s flesh.
After, I’ll trace my fingers over those bloody half-moon marks and realize they’re all I have left of her.
The first time, I spend weeks in the hospital. The doctors put me back together piece by piece. Surgical scars snake their way up my leg, around my knee, down my chest.
Battle scars, Mina calls them. “They’re fierce.”
Her hands shake when she helps me button my sweater.
The second time, there is no hospital. There are no scars.
There is only blood.
It’s everywhere. I press hard against Mina’s chest, but
my jacket’s already soaked through.
“It’s okay,” I keep saying. Over and over. She stares up at me with shocked, wet eyes and takes gulping breaths. Her body shivers beneath my hands.
“Sophie . . .” My name wheezes out of her. She lifts her hand, drags it toward mine. “Soph—”
It’s the last thing she ever says.