March 18

Birmingham, Alabama

Months had gone by. Months. And with each passing day, Lily Brennon could only watch as the boy she'd loved most of her life sank further and further into depression. It was like watching him fade from color to black and white.

She'd tried everything she could think of—yelling, pushing, encouragement, silence—nothing had helped. How did you even begin to comfort someone whose nightmares had crossed over into reality?

Standing in his living room doorway, she watched Jackson drop the phone into his lap and listened to his deep sigh of resignation. She wanted to give up as well. Especially if that phone call had been what she thought it was.

"Who was that?" she asked.

He pushed the bag of ice off his knee, and it landed beside the recliner with a crunch on the hardwood floor. He pulled the top strap of his knee brace back in place, tightening it while he gritted his teeth.


Her heart sank. She'd hoped for the best, but she'd known for some time now that Randall Clayton couldn't be trusted.

"What did he say?"

"I knew this would happen. Knew it as soon as my knee popped."

She waited for more, but he dropped his head back and closed his eyes. The uneasiness in her gut bloomed, but she pushed it back. She had to stay positive.

"So what did he say?"

"It's over. Nobody wants me now. Not even the team in Germany."

"But there has to be a team somewhere."

"No, Lily!" He opened his eyes and glared at her. "Didn't you hear me? I was a long-shot at best to begin with. Now look at me." He gestured toward his leg as though he'd like to rip it off his body. "I can't be ready to try out by June."

"What about next year? Guys come back from injuries all the time."

He shook his head. "Just because Coach pulled some strings and got me in once doesn't mean he can do it again."

"You can't just give up. Don't lose your faith now. You'll see. God is still working all things for your good. He knows the plans he has for you-"

"Stop quoting scripture. I'm so sick of that. It's the last thing I need right now. God isn't helping me. He's just pummeling me like it's funny to watch me suffer."

She knelt in front of him and laid her hand over his, struck by the warmth of his skin—the rest of him had gone so cold. He jerked it away like her hope might be contagious.

"Look," she said, "I know this has been hard, and I'm so sorry you're going through this. I just want to help. I'm sure things will get better."

"You're so naïve. It's not going to get better." He rubbed the back of his neck and stared at the ceiling.

For a fleeting moment she thought of slapping him. That's what she would have done a few months ago, but what good would it do now? Nothing had worked. Besides, he was supposed to be the strong one, the one who listened and offered a silver lining to every problem. She was the fighter, the scrappy one he'd had to hold back more than a few times. This reversal of roles was like trying to steady the human gyro ride at the fair, and she was failing miserably.

She barely even recognized him anymore. There was nothing left of the boy who'd once taught her how to sink a free throw, or how to bait a fishing hook in exactly the right spot so she wouldn't kill the cricket. She ached to reach out for him, to feel him hold her again and whisper in her ear, to see him smile. He was the one who'd saved her, so many times in so many ways. How could she be so useless now when he needed her?

She glanced around, taking in the disheveled living room. How often had they laughed at the mismatched furniture—the neon orange futon that nearly sunk to the floor when they sat on it, the oversized wicker chair he'd found beside the dumpster on campus? Even the recliner Matthew had brought with him when he'd moved in had several tears patched with duct tape. She'd given Jackson such a hard time for renting a dump, but she'd admired his reasons. Matthew was so much better off since moving in with him. Another person he'd saved.

She had to think of something, some way to bring back the Jackson she'd always loved. After everything he'd done for her, she couldn't just give up on him.

"Come on," she said. "Your dad wouldn't want you to quit."

The corner of his eye twitched, but remained fixed on the black television screen behind her.

"He's dead. He doesn't want anything."

"I know he wouldn't want to see you throw away your future."

"What future? Did you miss the part earlier about no D-League tryouts, no overseas ball? Those were my only chances at getting to the NBA."

"But there's so much more to your life than basketball. You'll have your degree soon, and you can still get a great job. And we'll be together. I thought you wanted those things."

He leaned his head back and dug his fingers into the arm rests.

"I don't know what I want right now, okay? Just stop hovering over me all the time. I just want to be left alone."

She pushed herself up and shoved back another instinct to fight. A break was a good idea. She might say something she'd regret.

"Fine. I just wanted to help. But obviously I can't say or do anything right." She turned and slung her backpack up from the floor. "I have to be at practice soon anyway, and at some point I have to study for midterms."

She waited for him to respond, hoping for any sign of the connection they'd once shared. She sighed and threw up her hands.

"Just call me tomorrow when you get up."

"No, Lily. That's not what I meant." His gaze fell as he fumbled with the phone in his lap. "I mean, I really want to be left alone. I can't do this anymore."

"What?" Her heart tripped and raced forward.

"I just need to figure some things out, get my bearings again."

"What do you mean? Are you breaking up with me?"

Nothing. Not a nod, a denial, nothing.

Her stomach rolled as her heart thudded against her chest. Things were bad, yes. But breaking up? She hadn't even considered it as a possibility. They hadn't spent more than a couple of days apart in over twelve years.

She registered the metal warming between her fingers as she rubbed her necklace—the necklace. She dropped it and focused on controlling her fear. He couldn't mean breaking up. He was just upset. But he hadn't said a word yet. He just stared at the floor.


"Look, forget about me, okay?"

The knots in her stomach jerked and twisted even more. She had to get out of there before she lost it. Crossing the small living room in a few deliberate strides, she gripped the doorknob and forced it to turn. She glanced back at him slumped in the recliner and pulled her emotions back into check.

"I thought you loved me," she said.

He sighed and finally looked at her, but still he said nothing.

"Do you still…love me?" she asked.

More empty silence. She shivered as though a cold wind had swept through the room, and she hugged her chest.


"I don't know, okay? I don't know anything right now."

It was as good as a punch to the gut.

"I see."

It took every ounce of her strength not to slam the door when she left. As she walked down the sidewalk in a daze, she wondered if all of it had really happened. It couldn't have. Surely he'd get past this and they would be okay. Was she really supposed to forget him? How did you forget a part of yourself?

March 19

Brunswick, Georgia

Alex Walker lay in his bed refusing to open his eyes. He'd tried so hard not to fall asleep, willing himself to be prepared for when she woke up, but exhaustion had taken over sometime before dawn. And another chance to make things right had passed him by.

He didn't need to look across the bed to know—he could feel her absence all around him. Still, some small hopeful part of his brain sent his hand wandering across the cool sheet, searching.


He opened his eyes and pushed himself up to the side of the bed, pausing to listen to the silence. Her shirt and slacks were no longer strewn across the floor, and she'd even made her side of the bed. He dropped his head into his hands and swore.

How could he have let this happen again? The empty beer bottles beside the bed were enough of an answer. But he still should have known better. Her promises never withstood the light of day.

He forced himself to get up and walk through the house, verifying that every last drop of her was gone. He was beginning to think that maybe he'd dreamed the whole thing, but the lipstick-smeared wine glass in the kitchen sink slapped him with a good dose of reality.

He leaned over and gripped the side of the sink, channeling his frustration into his knuckles as they turned from pink to white.

Never again. Adrian was never going to do this to him again.