you’re right. It’s not fair for you to never have time to yourself.” “Mom, you don’t have to…” She places the spatula and the oven mitt on the stovetop and twists around. Her eyes glisten as she takes my face in both hands and kisses my forehead, like she used to when I was a little kid. “No, I do,” she says. “You’re such a good kid, Libbi, and I’ve heaped a lot on you this last year. I think it’s about time you had a little freedom. And so…” Her bright smile beams. “Miss Lena said she’ll take Max anytime you need her. All you need to do is call. Her number’s on the fridge.” She tips her head toward a yellow Post-it on the refrigerator and I lose it. I bury my face in her neck and sob, my whole body heaving and shaking. “Oh Libs, it’s all right.” She pulls me close and strokes my hair, which causes another body quake followed by a watery eruption. I’m going to die in a few hours and she went and got Max a babysitter so I can enjoy more of my life. It’s ironic in the worst possible way. “No, Mom, it’s not all right. It’s not!” I pull away from her. My tears have left wet streaks on her purple T-shirt. I sink into a kitchen chair and cover my face with my hands. She sits in the chair next to mine; her warm, reassuring hand heavy on my shoulder. “What’s going on?” I open my mouth to tell her. It would be nice to talk to someone about it, especially my Mom. Just the thought of telling her makes it an easier burden to bear. I can almost feel the weight of the last two days lighten. But what am I supposed to say? “Hey, Mom! Guess what? I’m gonna die today.” I can’t do that. I can’t ruin our last few hours together with that kind of talk. I rub my palms over my eyes and sniff away the tears. “Nothing, Mom. I’m glad you’re not mad at me.” My fingers find her hand. “I love you.” I stop myself from adding, “I’m going to miss you.” “Aw, I love you too.” She brings my hand to her lips and plants a kiss in the middle of my palm. “Are you hungry?” “Yeah.” I force a smile. “Where’s Max?” I need to apologize to him, too. “He’s at camp, remember?” She pushes up from the chair, wrangles her disheveled hair back into her hair clip, and returns to the stove. “He left with one of the scout moms and a bunch of his friends this morning.” Camp. Right. I forgot. My stomach turns sour and the familiar lines of the kitchen blur through my tears. As awful as I treated Max, I won’t be able to say good-bye or even tell him I’m sorry. Unless— “Where are they camping?” “Oh, some place outside town. Camp Constance, I think. Why?” “No reason. Just curious.” My stomach settles as much as the stomach of a person scheduled to die in a few hours can settle. I know the camp she’s talking about, and it’s not far away. About a twenty-minute drive outside of town.
I check my cell phone. 11:28. A little less than four hours left. Plenty of time. My disjointed mind skitters between driving out to Camp Constance to say good-bye to Max and telling Aaron I’d rather die than take his crumby job. My car keys snag on the zipper as I pull them out of my purse. I look down to yank them free and almost miss Kyle furtively dart behind a tree. “Kyle!” This is perfect. If there was ever a time I needed my friends, this is it. I can’t think of a better way to end my life than with my best friends. That and a big bowl of Foster’s Chocolate Decadence ice cream. Heck, the ice cream shop would be a great place to be at 3:12 today. Maybe I’ll choke on a maraschino cherry or develop a fatal case of brain freeze. Death by chocolate. “Kyle!” I jog after him. He takes a left at the end of the block. “Kyle!” I know he can hear me. Everyone in Carroll Falls can hear me. Why won’t he answer? I turn the corner and immediately know something’s wrong. Kyle does an about-face and slogs toward me