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Read the First 4 Chapters of This Is How It Happened

Okay, consider this your warning: this book will give you so many emotions. The newest YA novel from Paula Stokes, THIS IS HOW IT HAPPENED, is about a girl who wakes up in the hospital after an accident only to find out that her musician boyfriend didn’t make it.

But there are some things she doesn’t remember, and as the truth starts to come back to her, she’s struggling with the fact that everything she does is under the judging gaze of her boyfriend’s online fans. There are also flashbacks so you can fall in love with Dallas and get heartbroken all over again too… brb getting our tissues for this one.

THIS IS HOW IT HAPPENED is on sale now, and you definitely shouldn’t miss it if you want a book that will give you #allthefeels. Scroll down to start reading for free now!

 

THE ST. LOUIS TIMES

Local YouTube Sensation and Fusion Recording Artist Killed in Car Accident

BY OLIVIA AHN, May 13, 6:00 a.m.

Early this morning, at approximately 1:15 a.m., seventeen-year-old Fusion Records recording artist and Ridgehaven Academy senior Dallas Kade was killed in a head-on collision on Highway Z in Wentzville. Kade was a passenger in his own car, which was being driven by his girlfriend, Genevieve Grace, another Ridgehaven Academy senior.

The two were returning home from a release party for Kade’s debut album, Try This at Home. The first single, “Younity,” a rock/rap anthem featuring Kade’s label-mate Tyrell James, hit airwaves four weeks ago and is already racing up the Billboard charts.

Kade and Grace were hit by Bradley Freeman, 38, a former St. Charles County paramedic who now works as a cook at the Eight Ball Bar & Grill in New Melle. Freeman resigned from EMS duty two years ago after pleading guilty to a DWI charge. A Wentzville Police Department officer who was one of the first on the scene said he “smelled alcohol” on Freeman, but officials are awaiting the results of blood tests to determine if Freeman was indeed driving under the influence at the time of the accident.

Kade was pronounced dead upon arrival at Lake St. Louis Medical Center. Grace and Freeman remain in critical condition. More on this story as events unfold.

Comments 1–10 of 2,401
Kadet4Ever: This is a joke, right? Some sort of publicity stunt because the album just went on sale? Someone please tell me it’s a joke.
Lila Ferrier: I think it’s true. They’re running the same article over at MTV and Tyrell James just tweeted condolences to the entire KadetKorps.
KickassKadet: OMG. I’m dying right now.
pxs1228: You know who should be dying? The guy who hit him. I hope that drunk SOB never wakes up. Brad Freeman is white trash garbage. Human waste.
fullgrownkademaniac: No way. He needs to take responsibility for what he did. The Scoop is reporting that a radar detector was found in the wreckage of Freeman’s truck. You don’t have one of those unless you’re a habitual speeder or drunk driver. I hope he wakes up and then goes to jail for the rest of his life. Which is long. And painful.
pxs1228: Good point. I hope he gets sued for every penny he owns along the way. Can you imagine how much money Dallas Kade might have earned in a lifetime?
fullgrownkademaniac: #JusticeForDallas
Kadet4Ever: #Justice4Dallas And don’t forget to #Pray4Genevieve too. Can you imagine how grief-stricken she’s going to be when she wakes up and realizes Dallas is gone forever? I can’t even!
fullgrownkademaniac: IF she wakes up 🙁
pxs1228: Freeman better hope she wakes up, or else that’ll be two people he killed.

 

Chapter 1

MAY 18

When I open my eyes, my first thought is that I’m underwater. Everything is bright and out of focus. My instincts tell me I need to breathe, but I’m afraid that if I try to inhale the water will rush into my throat and I’ll drown. As I push for the surface, I exhale a tiny breath of air and my teeth press hard against something plastic. Reaching my hand up to my mouth, I realize there’s a tube in my throat. I gag violently as I pull on it. Some sort of machine starts beeping.

“No, no,” a female voice says sharply. A strong hand grips my wrist and moves it away from my face. I blink hard. The whole world is still blurry. I try to ask what’s happening but no words come out.

“Well, don’t yell at her. I can only imagine how scary it is to wake up on a ventilator,” a male voice says. “Page Derby and see if we can extubate.” Someone places my hand down next to my hip. “Genevieve. You were in an accident,” the male voice continues. “The tube in your throat is helping you breathe. If you pull it out, you could damage your larynx.”

Ventilator. Extubate. Accident. I’m in the hospital, but that’s as far as I get. The rest of the guy’s words fall through the grates of my brain, lost in a current of blood. What if I have brain damage? I lift my hand again to make sure my skull is still intact, but my fingers get distracted by a bandage wrapped around my head.

My hand is quickly pinned against the soft mattress and held there. “Don’t mess with your dressing, okay? Try to stay calm.”

“He’s coming.” The female voice is back. “I brought you a warm blanket.” Something cozy unfolds over my whole body, like slipping into pajamas fresh from the dryer. A soft cloth wipes across my eyes and suddenly I can see again. The forms are a little fuzzy, but I can make out a tall black guy and a shorter redheaded woman, both dressed in navy blue nursing scrubs.

A man in a white coat strides into the room. “Well, hello, young lady,” he says in a booming voice. “I’m Dr. Derby from Neurosurgery. Let’s see if you’re ready to breathe on your own again.” He shines a tiny flashlight into each of my eyes and then has me squeeze both of his hands. He hands me a whiteboard and a marker. “Can you write your name for me?”

My whole body aches and the marker feels awkward in my hand, like I’m back in preschool, learning how to write for the first time. And just like my four-year-old self probably did, I curse internally at how long my name is. It takes about three lifetimes, but I finally manage to scrawl out the letters G E N E V I E V E G R A C E. At least I dropped one letter when I changed my last name from Larsen to Grace after my parents divorced.

Next, Dr. Derby asks me where I am, and what day it is. I take to the whiteboard again. When I apparently flub the date, he gives me a follow-up question of what year it is. Thankfully I get that one right.

The doctor turns to a computer and flicks through a few screens. Then he goes to the big ventilator machine parked next to my bed. The machine chirps in response as he presses a few keys. “I think we can extubate,” he says. “Page Respiratory and put her on q fifteen-minute neuro checks for the first two hours. Call me for anything out of range. Oh, and put her on clear fluids until tomorrow night.”

The redheaded nurse grabs a phone from the pocket of her scrubs and steps outside the room. The male nurse smiles at me. “Welcome back,” he says. “The respiratory tech will be here soon. Just hang in there.”

Like I have any other choice. I inhale deeply and the ventilator chirps again.

A couple of minutes later, an Indian girl who doesn’t look much older than me pushes a cart into the room. “I’m Priya from the Respiratory department,” she says. “It’s lovely to see you awake, Miss Grace. I’m going to take that tube out of your throat.” She starts to loosen the tape around my mouth.

And then I hear another voice, as sharp as a scalpel—my mother’s.

“What’s going on in here?” Her high heels rat-a-tat-tat across the tile floor like machine-gun fire. Everyone in the room looks like they want to take cover. “Why didn’t you page me that she was awake?”

“I’m sorry, Dr. Grace. She literally just woke up,” the male nurse says.

My mom pushes past him without replying. “Genevieve, honey. I was so worried about you.”

I try to squeeze out a “Hi, Mom,” which is probably inadequate, but it doesn’t matter because I can’t talk with the tube in my throat.

My mom glances around the room. “What are you waiting for? Extubate her.”

Priya bends low with an empty syringe. She does something I can’t see and then slowly pulls the tube out of my throat. For a second, I feel like someone is choking me, but then I gasp in relief. My mother hands me a tissue.

I wipe some crusty stuff from the corners of my mouth. “Hey,” I manage. One word. Soft. Hoarse.

“Hey,” my mom says. Her eyes start to water.

Wow, she must have been seriously frightened. My mom is one of those people who thinks crying is a sign of weakness and that signs of weakness are unacceptable. It’s probably a good combination for a pediatric cardiac surgeon. Less so for a mom, or a wife. It’s a miracle she and my dad stayed married as long as they did.

As if reading my mind, she says, “Your father is in the waiting area.” She gestures around the room. “A lot of your friends stopped by while you were . . . sleeping.”

I wrap my arm around one of my bed rails and pull myself to a seated position. The room is full of colorful cards, balloons, and stuffed animals. Like completely full. What the hell? There must be stuff from fifty people here, which would be nice, except I only have two close friends. Maybe it’s all from my mom’s coworkers, or maybe Dallas’s music industry friends sent a ton of crap.

I furrow my brow as I look past my mom, through the glass door of my room. A nurse in navy blue hurries by, the pocket of her scrubs bulging with syringes and other medical stuff. Behind her, doctors in white coats are clustered around a bank of computers.

“Where’s Dallas?” I ask. He should be here right now.

Mom starts talking about the accident, but her words fade out, because suddenly I start to remember what happened.

 

Chapter 2

MAY 12

Dallas stood on the porch wearing ripped jeans and a designer T-shirt, his blond hair artfully arranged in soft spikes. He was clutching a bouquet of coral-colored roses and a plastic soda bottle of bright yellow fluid.

“Look at you,” I said with a grin. “So smooth. Remember when we were both nerds?” I held open the door for him.

“You were never a nerd, Genna.” He stepped into the foyer. “Lucky for me you just liked engaging in nerd pastimes.”

I laughed. We met as freshmen in Premed Club, an afterschool activity for kids who want to be doctors. We were still in that club, but finally we were seniors, which made us the automatic cool kids. Not that Dallas needed extra cool points. In the past three years he’d gone from “I started a YouTube channel to teach people how to play their favorite songs on the piano” to “I just released my first album.” Dallas had close to a million Twitter followers. I had seventy-eight.

My mom materialized in the living room as if summoned by the scent of roses. “How thoughtful of you, Dallas,” she said. “But tonight is your special night. You didn’t need to bring flowers for Genevieve.”

“Oh, these are for you, Dr. Grace.” He thrust the roses in my mom’s direction. “I appreciate how supportive you’ve been, working around my music schedule and allowing me to pick up occasional shifts in your lab. I’m still planning on declaring premed, so that experience is really important to me.”

My mom puffed up with pride as she accepted the bouquet, adding another inch to her already imposing five-foot-nine-inch frame. (I’m five foot three—not sure what happened there.) “If anyone can break records in the performing arts and medical fields both, I have no doubt that it’s you,” she said.

“Hey, what about me?” I said with pretend hurt. I actually have no interest in performing, unless acing my MCATs in a few years counts.

“Stick with medicine. We can’t all be entertainers,” Mom advised. “I’d better go see if I can find a vase. It’s been a while since a man brought me flowers.” She spun on her heel and headed toward the kitchen.

“I guess I could’ve brought her a vase too.” Dallas fiddled with the rubber bracelet he always wore. It was black and white, like a set of piano keys wrapping around his wrist.

“No need. Not counting the one I broke when I was seven, I’m guessing she has about fifty.” There was a point in my parents’ marriage when my dad tried really, really hard.

“Cool.” Dallas lowered his voice. “By the way, I find you plenty entertaining.”

I gave him a playful punch in the arm. “Good to know.”

He handed me the bottle of yellow fluid. “I know you don’t like flowers, so this is for you.”

I held the container up to eye level and sloshed the liquid back and forth. It resembled an unlabeled bottle of Mountain Dew, or maybe antifreeze. “You brought me a urine sample?” I joked.

“Yeah . . . no. Tyrell sent me a test batch of his energy drink to hand out to my friends. That’s called Barely Legal, and apparently it’s got enough caffeine and B-vitamins to keep you going for twelve hours straight. You’re still getting up at five to go running every day, right? Wouldn’t want you to fall asleep during your finals.”

I had to swallow back a yawn at the mere mention of the word “sleep.” “Barely Legal? Someone thought that was a good name? And you actually want me to drink this?” I unscrewed the cover and gave the fizzy liquid a sniff. “Are you sure it’s not a urine sample?”

“Don’t be a smartass,” Dallas said. “Tyrell thinks that’s going to compete with Red Bull. He and his brother are planning to go into production by midsummer to be able to market to kids by fall finals.”

“Well. He’s nothing if not confident,” I replied. Tyrell James is featured in two songs on Dallas’s album. I found it weird at first, the way a twenty-eight-year-old rapper from the north side of St. Louis wanted to collaborate with a teenage singer from what people who live in the city have been known to call “the sticks.” But apparently they had the same producer or manager or something—I couldn’t keep track of all the music industry jargon—and their sounds blended really well together. Plus, they both helped extend each other’s fan base.

“He says ninety-five percent of success is confidence.”

“What’s the other five percent?” I asked. “Actual talent?”

“Energy drinks, I think,” Dallas said with a grin. “You ready to go?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be.” I set the sample of Barely Legal on the coffee table and turned to follow Dallas out to his car. Like everything else about him, it was slick, shiny, and new. He swore he wasn’t going to go crazy buying stuff, but it was probably impossible not to splurge a little when he signed his recording contract and suddenly felt rich.

We buckled up and Dallas backed slowly down the long driveway. He navigated the twisting back roads of my Lake St. Louis neighborhood like he’d been driving the car for years. We wound our way through an area of dense trees and then merged onto Highway 40 and headed for the city.

Dallas reached over and wrapped one of his hands around mine. “Thanks for coming with.”

“You’re welcome.”

Dallas knew I felt uncomfortable going to parties with him. I liked his songs but I’m not a huge music person in general, so a lot of the industry conversation is lost on me. Not to mention I’m kind of introverted, so I usually killed time in some quiet corner, texting my best friend, Shannon, or pretending to be responding to urgent emails while everyone else danced and mingled. When I was lucky enough that the parties were at private residences, I sometimes ended up on the floor somewhere playing with a dog or cat, or once a frisky pair of ferrets.

This particular party was at Tyrell James’s house, which is in the ritzy Central West End neighborhood, between downtown St. Louis and Washington University. Dallas and I had both been accepted to Wash U for the fall. I had no idea how he thought he was going to manage our rigorous premed coursework with his new record label obligations, but my mom was right—if anyone could do it, he could.

The drive took us a little over an hour. Tyrell’s assistant, Tricia, answered the door and ushered us into the great room, where most of the guests were hanging out. The room was a mix of old architecture and slick modern furnishings, the vaulted ceilings and crown molding blending surprisingly well with the black leather sofas and glass fireplace.

Tyrell sauntered over and greeted both of us. “What’s up?” he asked.

Dallas gestured around at the crowd. “Pretty epic scene you’ve got going on here.”

Tyrell laughed. “This is all you.” He held out his fist.

As I watched Dallas execute an awkward fist bump, his pale freckled knuckles colliding with Tyrell’s dark skin, I smiled at the idea that two musicians who were so different had created a song loved by so many people. Maybe there was hope for the world after all.

The two of them made the rounds along a string of strangers who pumped Dallas’s hand and pressed business cards into his palm. Shaking my head at a couple of servers handing out hors d’oeuvres and glasses of champagne, I wandered toward the back of the house, where a set of stairs led down into the basement. I figured Tyrell had probably locked up his surprisingly lovable Rottweiler, Sable, in the laundry room as usual. I glanced back over my shoulder. My boyfriend was smiling his professional entertainer smile and nodding as a silver-haired guy showed him something on an iPhone. I opened the door to the basement with a creak and closed it behind me. Dallas would text me if he needed me.

Sable was smart enough not to bark when the door opened. Instead I heard the sound of her nails clicking across the cement floor as I flipped on the light. I’d only been there two other times, but either the dog remembered me or she was lonely enough to cuddle up to a stranger. She butted her head against my hand and then loped off into the darkness.

“Come here, girl.” I sat on the floor and patted my legs to get her attention. “What are you doing?”

Sable found a ball behind the washing machine and trotted over to me, dropping it next to me with a hopeful look. I rolled the ball across the floor and Sable caught up to it in about two strides. She brought it back and deposited it into my lap.

“Gross. You drooled on it.” I held it up like I was going to throw it and her mouth curled up into a smile. I smiled back—I’ve never been able to resist a smiling dog—and then flung the ball the length of the laundry room.

We played fetch until Sable was exhausted, and then she lay down on her side and looked up at me, her pink tongue dangling out of the corner of her mouth. I scratched her behind the ears.

“I’d much rather party with dogs,” I told her. “I don’t know why Tyrell locks you up. You are the cutest thing ever.”

She chuffed in agreement, her dark eyes falling closed. I leaned my head back against the wall of the laundry room and stroked Sable’s fur repeatedly. Above, a familiar beat started playing—Dallas’s first single, “Younity,” one of the tracks featuring Tyrell. The song is about kids and teens learning to support each other regardless of gender, race, wealth, etc. Fusion Records leaked the video in early spring and now it had more than seven million views.

When Dallas first transitioned from making instructional videos playing other people’s songs to showcasing his original music online, he shot his own videos to upload to YouTube. I’m even featured in a couple of them. He wanted me to be in the video for “Younity” too, and I tried—I really did—but after one day on set, I quit and told him he’d be better off hiring a professional model.

Shannon said I was crazy, but she’s a mega-extrovert. The idea of spending three days being dressed, made-up, and judged by strangers sounded fun to her. There is nothing fun about a group of people shaking their heads in exasperation because they hate the shape of your lips or the way your hair moves when you walk.

Dallas didn’t seem to care about me bailing on him, especially when they replaced me with a willowy Swedish model named Annika Lux, and I was only too happy to escape to the sidelines, where I could snap pictures and share them with Shannon when no one was looking.

But a few weeks after the shoot, Dallas and I got into a fight and he told me that my dropping out of the video made him upset and embarrassed. Not only was it last-minute extra work for the producer, but he’d been tweeting about how excited he was that his beautiful blond girlfriend was going to be in his video, and suddenly everyone seemed to think he and Annika Lux were a couple.

Sable stirred in her sleep. I realized I should leave the dog alone and go find Dallas. I should want to go find Dallas, anyway.

I checked my phone to make sure I hadn’t missed any messages and sighed when I saw that it wasn’t even ten o’clock. Still, I’d been down there for almost an hour. I knew I should probably at least check in.

I headed back upstairs and cut through the kitchen area and back into the great room, where Dallas’s album was still blaring and people were dancing, talking, or smashed onto the sofa playing video games. I didn’t see Dallas anywhere. I pulled my phone out of my purse and started to tap out a text. Before I finished, a boy about my age wearing red leather pants and a black T-shirt so tight I could see the outline of his abs asked me to dance.

“Sorry. I don’t dance.” I tried not to stare at his overly defined muscles.

“That’s cool,” the boy said. “How about a drink?”

“I don’t really drink either,” I said. “Do you know where Dallas is?”

“Out there with some of his fan club.” The boy gestured toward a set of French doors that led out onto the deck. “Too bad. You don’t really look like a Kadet to me.”

“Believe it or not, I’m the queen of the Kadets,” I said.

I stepped out onto the deck, where a group of teens and twentysomethings were packed a little too tightly into Tyrell’s hot tub. Behind them, a sprinkling of people stood clutching drinks. I scanned the crowd, but I still didn’t find Dallas.

I approached a guy with a beer bottle in one hand and a cigarette in the other. “Have you seen Dallas by any chance?” I asked.

“Out there maybe?” The guy gestured toward the backyard with his beer.

I wandered to the edge of the deck and peered out into the night. The manicured lawn faded into blackness beyond the house lights.

“Dallas?” I called.

No one answered.

 

Chapter 3

“Genevieve?”

My mom’s voice slices the memory to pieces. “Are you listening to me?”

“Sorry. I was just trying to remember what happened.” I shift slightly in bed and a sharp pain shoots through my left leg. I yank my blankets to the side and find my calf completely wrapped in gauze dressing. Gingerly, I reach out to touch the bandages.

“Nothing is broken, but a piece of metal cut into your muscle and the laceration required over twenty stitches,” Mom says. “How’s your head feeling?”

“Okay, I guess.”

“I don’t know how much the nurses told you before I arrived, but in addition to your leg, you suffered a skull fracture and an epidural hematoma requiring surgery. You also have a lot of scratches and bruises.” Mom’s voice wavers. She looks away for a second. “But it’s nothing that won’t heal.”

“So where’s Dallas?” I ask again. “Did he get hurt too?”

Mom’s face tightens into her “concerned parent” look, the one that makes two little divots form in the space between her eyebrows. “Did you not hear anything I just said?”

I rub at my eyes. “I’m sorry. I zoned out. You were telling me about the accident, right?” I fish through my memory of the last couple of minutes, but the only things that surface are the words “head injury” and “unresponsive.” She could have been talking about me.

My mom strides to the door of my room and snaps her fingers at my nurse as she passes by. “Get Derby back here.”

I sink down in the bed. I hate it when she does the snapping thing. I thought she mostly reserved it for waiters, which still makes me cringe, but seeing her do it in the hospital makes me wonder if maybe everyone here hates her, if she’s one of those mean surgeons the whole staff whispers about when she’s not around.

“But we just did a neuro check and everything seems intact,” the redheaded nurse says.

“I don’t care. Get him on the phone for me.”

The nurse looks ready to object again. Good for her for standing up to my mom, but I’m not sure she knows who she’s dealing with. I cough feebly as a distraction. “Mom. You’re not my doctor. You can’t order people around.”

My mom’s lips tighten into a hard line. “And we might need Psych up here as well.”

Of course, because if I’m standing up to her it’s either a brain bleed or a mental disorder. “I don’t need Psych,” I say. “I just want to know what happened to Dallas. Is he hurt badly? Is that why he’s not here?”

“Genevieve.” My mom pulls a chair over to the side of the bed. She curls one hand around mine. “How much do you remember about the accident?”

My heart starts pounding. Images flicker through my brain: flashing lights, smoke, blood. But is any of it real? I’m not sure. For all I know, I’m still unconscious on a ventilator and this moment isn’t even real. I bite down on my bottom lip until the pain makes my eyes water. “Just bits and pieces,” I say.

“It was very serious—a head-on collision,” my mom says softly. “I’m sorry, honey. Dallas didn’t survive. He’s dead.”

“What?” I say, even though I heard her just fine. I must have known in some way, from the look on my mom’s face, from the sound in her voice, that Dallas was gone, but hearing it stated so matter-of-factly is like a sledgehammer to the gut. “I don’t—” My eyes start to water. My jaw trembles. I can’t speak. I can’t even breathe. I ball the fabric of my blanket in both fists. Through the blur of tears, I see my mom mouth “Psych” to the nurse. The nurse hurries from the room and Mom slides the glass door closed for privacy. She pulls a box of Kleenex from the counter and sets it on the bed next to me.

I grab a tissue and cover my face with it. “I don’t understand,” I choke out. “His first album just came out. How can he be dead?” I try to envision it in my mind—Dallas, lifeless—but I can’t even picture the word “dead.” I can’t remember how to spell it. I might even be saying it wrong.

“They said he probably wasn’t wearing his seat belt correctly, that airbags often don’t work the way they’re supposed to if you’re not buckled in.”

I barely hear the words my mom is saying. My brain keeps replaying, Dallas didn’t survive. He’s dead. The closest I’ve ever been to death is when Shannon had to go to Kansas City for her grandmother’s funeral. Shannon didn’t talk about it much and I didn’t press her.

“I know how hard this is going to be,” Mom says. “I just want you to know I’ll be supporting you every step of the way. Nurses, psychologists, physical therapists. Whatever you need—I’ll make sure you get it. I’ve overseen your care for the past week, I’ve—”

“Past week?” I peek over the edge of my tissue. “Wait. How long was I unconscious?”

“Five and a half days,” my mom says. “They had to keep you sedated until the swelling in your brain went down.”

“Oh my God.” The tissue slips from my fingers and falls to the bed, getting lost in the white folds of my blanket. Five and a half days. Brain swelling. I almost died too. The word “dead” feels just as strange when I think about it to describe myself.

Tears stream silently down my cheeks. I stare straight ahead, at the thick glass door to my room. Beyond it, doctors and nurses stride past carrying clipboards and tablet computers. They’re moving. Living. And I feel frozen in a single moment. Dallas didn’t survive. He’s dead.

Why Dallas instead of me?

“The police have been waiting to speak to you,” my mom says. “But I’ll tell them it can wait a little longer, until you’re feeling a bit better.”

I blink hard as I fight to regain control of my emotions, but now my mother has introduced fear into an already overwhelming mix of shock, grief, and pain. “Police? Why do the police want to talk to me?”

Mom’s face twists up into a frown. “Because you were hit by some drunken miscreant, and they want to make sure he goes to jail.”

“Is the other driver okay?”

My mom scoffs. “The people who cause the accidents always seem to come out on top. He was unresponsive at the scene but was resuscitated and woke up a couple of days ago with nothing but a concussion and a couple of scratches. He’s claiming he doesn’t remember anything. Too bad for him blood tests don’t lie. I will never understand people who think it’s okay to get wasted and then get behind the wheel of a car.”

“I swear to you I didn’t drink anything,” I say softly.

“I know you didn’t. The hospital did tox screens on both drivers, but I had no doubt what the results would be. You’re a good girl, Genevieve. I’m sorry that bad things sometimes happen to good people.”

The glass door to my room slides open and the redheaded nurse returns with a slender Asian man in tow. “It’s time for another neuro check,” she says brightly. “And I’ve brought Dr. Chao in case Genevieve feels like talking.” She holds a portable phone out toward my mother. “ I’ve also got Dr. Derby on the line for you.”

Mom takes the phone. “Alex, one second,” she says. She turns back to me. “Do you feel up to visiting with your father?”

I have spoken to my dad only a handful of times since he divorced my mom for another woman three years ago and moved fifteen hundred miles away. I’ve never really forgiven him for the way he broke up our family, but now doesn’t seem like the time to hold a grudge. Plus, I guess it’s nice that he flew in all the way from Utah to see me. “Yeah, he can come in.” I glance around the room. “What time is it?”

“It’s about four-thirty,” Mom says. “I’ll tell him to wait until Dr. Chao is finished.” She turns her attention back to the phone as she clickety-clacks out of the room. I hear her ask something about cognitive processing speeds.

The nurse puts me through the same series of tests Dr. Derby did when I first woke up, asking me to hold out my arms, squeeze her hands, follow her flashlight with my eyes, etc. I ask her for pain medicine for my leg and she returns with a clear vial and a syringe.

Dr. Chao waits for her to administer the medicine and then closes the glass door behind her. He tells me he’s from Psychiatric Services and gives me some general information about PTSD, anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders—all common side effects of serious accidents. I listen quietly, but my focus flickers in and out. I’m still replaying my mom’s words in my head. Dallas didn’t survive. He’s dead.

“How are you really feeling?” Dr. Chao clears his throat. “Sorry, I know that’s standard therapy talk, but the emotional and physical responses to traumatic events can vary widely, and finding the best course of treatment depends on knowing where the patient is at.”

“I kind of lost it when my mom told me.” I point at my red eyes. “But now I just . . . I don’t know. It all seems sort of unreal. I think maybe I’m in shock. No one close to me has ever . . . you know.” I can’t bring myself to say “died.”

“Well, you might be feeling numb from the pain medicine you received, but you’ll be with us for a couple more days and then your mom asked me to recommend an outpatient therapist just in case. Between the two of us, we’ll make sure you’re covered for anything you need, okay?”

I nod. What I need is to rewind the past week and keep Dallas safe somehow, but I don’t think Dr. Chao can prescribe me a time machine. I glance past him. My dad has appeared outside the closed glass door. He’s pacing back and forth, his shirt rumpled, his hair sticking up. He looks like complete crap, and for some reason I find that comforting, like maybe he didn’t get remarried and forget all about me.

Dr. Chao follows my gaze. “It appears someone is anxious to see you,” he says. “I’ll check back in tomorrow. In the meantime, read through these if you get a chance.” He leaves a couple of pamphlets on dealing with grief on my nightstand and then heads back out into the ICU.

Dad strides into the room and comes immediately to my bedside, where he slides into the chair Dr. Chao vacated. “Genevieve.” He takes my left hand in both of his, expertly navigating multiple IV lines without pulling or pressing on anything. “I have never been so scared in my whole life.”

I open my mouth to tell him I’m glad he’s here, but what slips out is “You got old.”

Dad laughs, and tears well in his eyes. “I never thought I’d be so happy to hear someone say that.”

“Sorry. I think that might be the pain medicine talking.”

“No, it’s fine that my gorgeous teenage daughter thinks I’m old. But if you’re referring to my gray hairs, I’m fairly certain all of them cropped up in the past few days.”

“Too much time with Mom, huh?” Again, the words fall from my lips without much thought. Either the nurse gave me really good drugs, or my dad’s presence is like one of those warm blankets she brought me earlier. I’ve been mad about the divorce for what feels like forever, but seeing him here reminds me of how things used to be. Suddenly I’m twelve years old again and my parents are still married. I never realized how good I had it back then.

Dad laughs again. “Pretty and funny. Some guy is going to be a lucky . . .” He trails off as he realizes what he’s said. “My turn to apologize,” he says. “I’m so sorry about Dallas. Such an incredibly talented young man. What a tragedy.”

I nod. I don’t want to talk about Dallas right now. I’ll just end up crying again and I don’t have the energy. Plus, there’s something bothering me when I think about him—something more than just the fact that he’s gone—but I’m not sure what it is. “I can’t believe you’re here,” I say. “What about your cases?”

My dad is also a workaholic surgeon, but that’s where the similarities end between him and my mom. Where Mom is high-strung and overdemanding, Dad is laid-back and was always kind of a slacker in the parent department. I think he viewed his role as more of a supporting one.

Dad rubs at his forehead. His blond hair is only beginning to recede, new threads of gray appearing at his temples since I last saw him. “I can’t believe you can’t believe I’m here.” He shakes his head ruefully. “I messed things up between us so badly. Thank God I have another chance to be a decent father to you.” He looks toward the ceiling for a second.

“Thank God?” As far as I know, my parents and I have all been atheists since I was old enough to decide for myself. “That’s new.”

“Yes, well. People change.”

“Not easily,” I say. “What happened? Did Rachael get you going to church?”

“Let’s just say I’m trying to be more open-minded these days.”

“I guess that’s good.” I pick at a loose thread on my blanket. “But it’s hard to even imagine a God who would kill Dallas. Everyone loved him. He was destined for so many great things.” My voice cracks and I look away. Neither one of my parents has ever been particularly skilled at handling my tears. I learned early on to do most of my crying in private.

Dad lifts one hand to my cheek. “Honey, I wish there was some way I could help. I know how close you and Dallas were.”

I turn back to face my dad. “How do you know that?”

“Well, for one, your mother told me. But even before then, I’ve seen all the pictures of the two of you on your Instagram, the interviews where Dallas said some of the songs on his album were written for his girlfriend.” Dad gives me a sad smile. “Just because we haven’t talked much in the past couple of years doesn’t mean I haven’t been keeping up with how you’re doing.”

I’m not sure if I should be offended or flattered at the idea of my dad stalking me online. I really did think after he messed up royally with Mom and me that he just decided to cut his losses and start over with his new wife.

“We’ve been dating—I mean, we dated—for over two years, but we were kind of going through a rough spot,” I say. “Dallas spent a lot of time working on his YouTube channel even before he got the offer to record the album, but it was never more than an obsessive hobby, you know? But once he started making real money, things changed.”

“You felt left behind?” my dad asks.

“More like we just ended up on different paths,” I say. “Maybe we would have broken up. I don’t know.”

“That doesn’t make this any less traumatic for you.” Dad squeezes my hand gently.

“Thanks.” Dallas didn’t survive. He’s dead. It’s like I have to keep replaying those words in order to believe them. I know the first stage of grief is denial, but I’ve always thought of that as an active thing, a violent refusal to accept reality. What I feel is just this passive shock, this numbness. Maybe it is just the medicine, like Dr. Chao said. At least my leg stopped aching.

“Right now it all feels fake,” I say, more to myself than my dad. “Like I’m rehearsing for my role in the world’s most terrible play.”

I can’t shake the idea that my real life, and Dallas, are out there somewhere waiting for me.

 

Chapter 4

Dad and I start watching a movie on his iPad. We’re only about fifteen minutes in when my mom reappears, my backpack clutched in one of her fists. “Good news,” she says to me, without so much as acknowledging my dad’s presence. “Shannon dropped off your homework. I figured you’d want to start catching up as soon as possible.”

“Is Shannon here?” I ask hopefully. Last summer she had to spend the night in the hospital after she slipped on the diving board and hit her head. I stayed with her right up until she fell asleep, watching movies and working on homework together.

“I told her you weren’t ready for visitors yet, but she’ll be back tomorrow after school. Oh, and the police are going to come by and take a statement after dinner.”

“Okay.” There’s a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, and I’m not sure if it’s from the idea of talking to the cops or the idea of trying to eat dinner for the first time in six days.

“How are your cases going?” Dad asks Mom, a safe attempt to be polite. If there’s one thing a surgeon is always willing to talk about, it’s surgery.

“Good.” Her eyes flick to his face for just a second and then back to mine. “Did two PFAs this week and a transplant in a two-year-old.”

“Nice,” my dad says. “You always did have a knack for the detail work. I prefer my hearts big enough that I can actually see the vessels I’m working on.”

“Yes, well. We could talk all day about how you like easy, oversized things.”

I wince. My stepmom, Rachael, is a park ranger who is five years older and about fifty pounds heavier than my mom. Mom had fun with that fact, telling all her friends that Dad had apparently developed a taste for overweight geriatric women.

“But at the moment I think it’s best if we limit our interactions to what directly concerns our daughter,” Mom continues.

“How long will you be in town?”

Dad pauses the movie. “As long as Genevieve needs me.”

My mother lifts her chin. “I’m quite sure I can take care of Genevieve. I’ve been doing it basically on my own for almost eighteen years.”

Dad’s face reddens. “That is not—”

I clear my throat. “Can you guys maybe not do this?”

My mom doesn’t say anything for a moment. Then, “I’ll let you and your father enjoy your movie and drop back by later after he’s left.”

“Good plan.” Dad’s jaw tightens.

Mom spins on her heel and leaves the room, the tails of her white coat flapping behind her.

“Sorry,” he says, after she slides the door shut. “She still knows how to push my buttons.”

“Yours and everyone else’s,” I say. “I thought she and my nurse were going to get into a fistfight.”

Dad snickers. “It’s good to know there are people who refuse to let her intimidate them.”

“Good until those people start to mysteriously disappear, at least.”

He pats me on the knee. “I’m glad to hear you making jokes. But hey, you don’t have to put on a brave face for all this, okay? After everything’s that happened, you’re allowed to fall apart; your parents are both surgeons. We’ll be here to put you back together if needed.”

“Thanks, Dad. And thanks again for coming all this way.” I tug at the loose thread on my blanket again.

“Stop thanking me for that.” He leans forward so we’re eye to eye. “You’re always going to be the most important thing in my life.”

“Says the guy who moved fifteen hundred miles away,” I mumble.

“Says the guy who has been trying to get you to come visit him for three years.”

That’s the thing about surgeons for parents. They are always on their game. A weaker dad would have dissolved into apologies after my remark, but my dad counters with a legitimate point. I haven’t gone to visit him once since he moved to Utah. I didn’t even want to go to his wedding in the Bahamas, but he said I could bring a friend and Shannon had never gone anywhere outside the Midwest. Her eyes almost bugged out of her head when I told her. After that, I couldn’t back out.

But the two of us hung out on the beach and kept to ourselves except for the actual ceremony and the bare minimum of time I felt obligated to stay at the reception. I expected my dad to act all wounded and lecture me, but instead he said he was glad I came, that it meant a lot to Rachael I was willing to be there.

“You’re right,” I admit. “I should’ve found the time to visit. I’m sorry if I hurt you, or Rachael.” I glance around nervously. “I know you tried. I don’t blame you for leaving anymore. I just wish you had done it differently.”

“Me too,” Dad says. “I hate that I hurt you.”

I swallow hard. I’m in no condition to talk about the way my dad hurt me right now. It’s weird that something he did years ago feels like a fresh wound, but thinking about Dallas being dead still feels hazy and unreal. Maybe it’s my mind trying to protect me, holding back the emotional pain of the accident until my physical injuries start to heal.

I gesture at the iPad. “Let’s get back to our movie.”

For the next two hours, my dad and I hang out in comfortable silence, disturbed only by my nurse popping in occasionally to reprogram my IV pump and do neuro checks. As the credits start to roll across the screen of Dad’s iPad, a man in black-and-white checked pants and a white coat knocks gently on the glass door.

My dad hops up and opens it.

“I have a clear fluids meal for Genevieve Grace,” the man says, checking a paper list.

“Mmm-mmm good,” Dad says. “Look, Genevieve. Dinner is served.”

“Great,” I say. “I’ve been clamoring for some chicken broth and Jell-O.”

The man checks my hospital ID bracelet, makes a note on his list, and sets my tray on my bedside table. Dad pushes the chair he’d been sitting in back against the wall and helps raise the head of my bed all the way so I’m ready to eat.

The man heads for his next room and Dad lays out my silverware on a napkin.

“Are you going to hang out and watch me eat?” I ask. “I’ll look the other way if you want to steal that Jell-O.”

“Pass,” Dad says. “You know I only like the green kind. I just want to be sure you can eat without aspirating.”

I take a big slurp of soup—low salt, lukewarm, this is why people starve to death in hospitals—and when I don’t suck it straight into my lungs, my dad smooths the wrinkles from his polo shirt and begins to gather his things.

A strange bout of preemptive loneliness hits me. I don’t want to be in this room all by myself. “Do you know what happened to my phone?” I ask.

“I don’t know if they ever recovered it from the accident, but I think there’s a landline somewhere that works for local calls if you need to call someone.” Dad scans the room.

Except I don’t know Shannon’s phone number. “I was just going to check my email and stuff.” My eyes latch onto Dad’s tablet.

“You want to borrow this?” He drops his iPad on the mattress next to me, bending over to kiss me on the forehead at the same time. “The latest Tess Gerritsen is on there if you need something to read. It’s also full of my recent case study notes, if you need help getting to sleep later.”

My lips curl upward. “Thanks, Dad.”

The sliding glass door opens without warning and my mom reappears. I pull the blankets up to cover the iPad—I’m not sure why—and turn my attention to her. “You’re just in time for the blandest dinner ever created. I think they brought me three bowls of colored water.”

“See you tomorrow.” Dad winks at me from the doorway.

Mom gives him a glare and then pulls up a chair next to my bedside table. “Are you doing all right swallowing?”

“Pretty good considering that everything tastes like nothing.”

“I’ll talk to Dr. Derby about getting you on a soft food diet by tomorrow night if you progress all right with the fluids.”

“What’s soft food? The one where everything tastes like mud?”

“If you’re lucky.” Mom smiles as she brushes my hair back from my face. “The police will be here in about an hour. Do you want me to read you some of these cards while you eat?” She gestures around the room.

“Who is all that even from?” I ask.

She goes from gift to gift looking for cards as I struggle to make my way through my bowl of soup. There’s a plush Dalmatian from Shannon, a silk flower arrangement from Dallas’s parents, and then more stuffed animals from Tyrell and Dallas’s record label. Some of Mom’s colleagues chipped in for a bouquet of Mylar balloons. That accounts for about a quarter of the stuff. After that, some of it is from musicians I’ve never met, some from kids at school I barely talk to, and some of it doesn’t even have cards.

“Do you think it’s from Dallas’s fans?” I ask.

“Possibly,” Mom says. “The newspapers printed your name and that you were in critical condition.”

I shake my head at the balloons and stuffed animals, at the brightly colored envelopes stacked on the counter. “Well, it’s a nice gesture, I guess, but kind of unnecessary.”

“You know how people are. Tragedies like this remind us how little control we have over our lives. Giving a gift makes people feel better.” Mom points at my dinner tray. “Are you finished? I can help you brush your teeth before the detectives arrive.”

“Good idea. My mouth tastes terrible.”

Mom pushes my bedside table toward the wall. She finds my toothbrush and a travel-sized tube of toothpaste in an overnight bag she must have packed for me. She holds a pink plastic basin under my chin so that I have something to spit in after I brush my teeth.

“Gross,” I say, as a bit of toothpaste drool runs down my chin and lands on the top of my blanket. “Is there any reason I can’t get out of bed and walk to the sink?”

“Right now you’re still hooked to too many tubes to be able to get out of bed safely. I’ll make sure PT comes tomorrow. Dr. Derby will probably move you to the step-down too. A couple more nights and hopefully we can get you out of here. I’m sure you’re dying to get back to school and see all your friends.”

“Mostly just Shannon,” I say.

After I brush my teeth, I ask my mom for a mirror. She hesitates just long enough for me to know there’s something wrong with my face.

“What is it?” I ask. “Do I have a broken nose? A giant scar?”

Sighing, Mom hands me her phone so I can examine myself with her reverse camera. I’m a mess of cuts and bruises and there’s a white bandage wrapped around my head, but I don’t look as bad as I was expecting. I lift a hand to a long red gash along my cheekbone. My fingers trace the tiny black stitches.

“I had that stitched by one of the best guys from Plastics. It should fade completely in a year or two.”

A year or two. I’ll be a sophomore in college before this scar goes away. I finger the bandage wrapped around my head. “And this.” I furrow my brow as I struggle to remember our earlier conversation. “You said . . . brain surgery?”

“A craniotomy, yes. They had to shave away part of your hair.” Mom pulls a tissue from the box next to my bed, obviously expecting more waterworks. “They wanted to do half your head, but I convinced them they didn’t need that much exposure, so it’s not as bad as you think.”

“Oh.” I ignore the tissue my mom is holding out. Maybe there are stages of grief for hair loss too, or maybe I just can’t bring myself to care about my appearance when Dallas is dead. I run one finger underneath the edge of the dressing and feel the smoothness of my skull.

“Don’t mess with it. You don’t want your incision to get infected.” Mom blinks hard. She blots at her own eyes with the tissue.

“Mom . . .”

“I’m sorry. I’ve been a wreck all week. It took me a long time to get over losing your father, and I really thought I might lose you, too.”

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen my mom cry. Even after the divorce, what I mostly saw was anger. If there were tears, she hid them from me. It feels weird comforting her when I’m the one who almost died, but I guess that’s how it is in hospitals—the family members suffer just as much or more. I reach out for her hand and she lets me take it. For a little while, the two of us just sit there in silence. My eyelids fall shut and I start to doze off.

And then there’s a knock at the door. I open my eyes to see two plainclothes policemen—well, one man and one woman—standing outside the room. The man is stocky and muscular, with dark brown skin and the beginnings of a beard. The woman is older, blond hair streaked with gray, dark circles under her eyes.

“Come on in.” I gesture for them to enter, but my mom springs up from her seat.

As she slides open the door, she clears her throat. “I’m Genevieve’s mother, Dr. Elena Grace, chief of Pediatric Cardiac Surgery.” She keeps talking without giving the detectives a chance to introduce themselves. “My daughter suffered a traumatic injury to her brain, which is still healing. She hasn’t regained her full memories of the accident yet.”

“Dr. Grace. Thank you for letting us know Genevieve was awake,” the blond woman says. She exchanges a look with her partner. “Do you think she might be more comfortable talking to us by herself?”

“Not a chance,” my mom says. “She’s a minor and I know her rights.”

“What are your names?” I ask, a little embarrassed by the way my mom feels the need to introduce herself with her entire title and take over every conversation.

“I’m Detective Blake,” the blond woman says. “And this is my partner, Detective Reed.”

“Nice to meet you,” I say.

My mom nods curtly to both of them and then returns to her seat.

The detectives pull chairs to the side of the bed opposite my mom and start by telling me they’re going to record the interview. Detective Reed asks me to tell him what I do remember.

I close my eyes for a second and try to fish out more images from the blankness of the last few days, but I can’t recall much beyond what I already told my mom. “Uh, I remember smoke and lights, the sound of people yelling. Firefighters, I think? And I remember blood. The windshield was missing, but there was blood on the dashboard . . . and on me. I had on a white top, and I remember all the red.”

“And before that?” Reed probes gently.

“I remember us going to the release party. Dallas brought my mom flowers. He is . . . was always so kind, thinking of other people.”

“Did anything special happen at the party?” Detective Blake asks.

“You’d have to ask . . .” I trail off. They can’t ask Dallas. Dallas didn’t survive. He’s dead. I clear my throat and try again. “I’m not sure. Tyrell could tell you more about the party. I always felt kind of out of place at Dallas’s events. I spent a lot of the night hanging out with Tyrell’s Rottweiler.”

Detective Blake gives me a small smile. She asks me why I was driving and it feels like a betrayal to admit that Dallas might have been drinking, but I guess now that he’s gone it’s no big deal if he was breaking the law. They want me to go back through everything I remember from that night, but the problem is I remember some of the party and then I have bits of memories of what happened after the crash, but the middle part is a total blank. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I know you’re looking for specifics about the accident, but I just don’t remember.”

“It’s possible she’ll regain full awareness of that night after she’s had a chance to recuperate,” my mom says crisply.

“We’ll get out of your hair so you can rest.” Detective Blake sets her business card on my bedside table. “Let us know if you remember anything else.”

I nod. “Sorry I can’t be more help.”

“That’s okay,” Detective Reed says. “You’ve been through a lot. We’re just glad you’re doing better.”

Detective Blake and her partner leave my room and Mom starts fussing with the equipment laid out on the counter. I think about the snide way she said the other driver was having trouble remembering. What if no one believes me, either?

The second the detectives are out of sight, I fake a huge yawn for Mom’s benefit. “That was kind of tiring,” I say. “I think I’m going to get some sleep.”

“Okay,” she says. “I should probably head home and take care of a few things there.”

I can’t imagine what Mom could possibly have to take care of at home. Pay the guy who trims the hedges? Make sure a second plastic-bagged newspaper doesn’t pile up on the porch? But I don’t care. Earlier I was terrified at the idea of being alone. Now I’m desperate for it. The not knowing is starting to weigh on me. I have to fill in some of the pieces from that night, and I know just the way to do it.


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