Author's Notes: Ten years ago, I published my first fully-written story on this website. I had a lot of fun writing it, and I had some pretty dedicated, loving readers. I recently went to it for the first time in a very long time to read it again myself. There was a lot of good there, I thought. But you can definitely tell how young I am, how much I don't really understand. I was a teenager then, writing because I loved it and it was cathartic for me at an important time in my life. I still love writing, of course, and I love how much heart I put into it even then.

I felt a very strong urge to do this story justice. I've decided to rewrite it - to make it better. I owe it to this story and these characters to bring them new life, a new understanding of their complex problems, and - most importantly - a new ending. I was a sad kid and so my story was sad. But now I know so much more about the world and life! I want to give that to this story. I also want to give that to whoever decides to read it.

I'm not crazy enough to believe that anyone who read the story ten years ago is still hanging around and will notice I've published a brand new version. But hopefully a few people out there will stumble across it, and it can become something it, at both times, had been and never was. If nothing else, I plan to have a lot of fun writing with my past self ten years back. It's been a long time since we talked.

Warning: This story will contain descriptions of family death, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, addiction, sex, abuse, and other issues that might be triggering for some. I don't consider it a particularly graphic story, but the main characters deal with mental illness, and as such, certain situations arise.

i. spinning while falling down

What makes a story good?

I've spent a lot of time this past year learning what it takes to construct a story. You need characters, a plot, a timeline. Rising action, a climax, and an ending. Some really pretentious guys out there will argue you don't actually need some of those things – but that's a little too existentialist for me. I like to stick to the basics.

So I know how to form a story. But I haven't figured out what makes it good.

If it's the quality of the writing, I'm not sure that's something I can deliver to you. I'm more of a hard sciences person, and I've gotten through Lit class with a barely passable C+ up to finals week. If it's the depth of the characters - that might be out the window, too. I wrote everyone down as I know them to be, from my own personal perspective, and I've come to learn that's not always as reliable as I'd once hoped it would be.

I want this story to be good, because I really need to pass your class, Mr. Kepler. But I don't know what makes a story good. Maybe at some point you gave a lecture on it... I must've skipped that day. I probably skipped a little too many days this year.

Sorry about that, for the record.

I spent a lot of time agonizing over this project – that's the anxiety, I've recently learned. Truth be told, this isn't even the story I initially wrote. My first draft was fantasy, or creative word vomit, which is really a genre all its own. I've included it here, too, because it became a part of everything in the end. But I've come to understand that it wasn't the story that I needed to tell, and maybe that's what's most important. Maybe the good stories are just the ones that needed to be told.

For better or for worse, and for whatever it's worth – let's start from the beginning.

March, last year

Springtime had always been my favorite part of the year. There was something about life blossoming from the dead of frost and that first touch of warm sun after an endless Winter. The cold can feel like it's going to last forever, until you almost forget that anything else ever existed, and then bam! Flowers, soft breezes, lemonade stands.

Plane crashes.

My father died that Spring. He worked in a consulting firm, so he'd racked up a lot of travel points on his American Express Gold Card. It was impressive how easy it was for him to fly to a new place with new people and act like he completely owned the place. He took me with him once or twice when I was young, but the turbulence always scared me, and my father was good at many things, but he never got the hang of comfort. No matter how many times he explained that it was statistically improbable for us to crash, I'd have an embarrassing public meltdown until he crumbled a little Ambien in my soda. I guess I was right in the end.

Take that, Dad.

Even though I'd only seen him in action a couple times, it was always a sight to see. He was like a God among men in his tailored suit. They said most boys grow up to be their fathers, but I could never imagine growing up to be that man. He was poise and confidence, keeping everyone close enough to control but far enough way that nothing ever got messy. He was absolutely invincible. Until he wasn't.

My mother cried and cried and cried for a really long time. I didn't, and I think she took offense to that. I felt like I should've, like maybe I wanted to, but my body could never quite muster the energy. It stayed locked inside of me somewhere, and it wasn't something I felt keen on digging for. My dad was dead, we'd never been close to begin with, and I couldn't do anything about it except move on.

The world kept turning, I kept existing. I attended the funeral and was ready to take the train back to boarding school the following Monday.

My mother, however, had other plans. Her world had been turned upside down and she was overcome with the desire to uproot. We had to move, she told me. Too many memories staying where we were. Part of me could understand. The air was stagnant, heavy with conversations my dad and I never had; games we never played; sitcom-worthy lessons he never taught me.

Another part of me, the part that hated the idea of changing a life I had gotten so used to, was screaming.

I had hoped it would be impossible. Who lets a student transfer schools at the tail-end of the year? But my old curriculum was more advanced than my new – public – one would be, and my credits translated smoothly to new courses. I'd have meetings with my teachers to help me get situated, but other than that, I'd be tossed into the waters without a life vest.

"You're insane," I told her the day I found out the news. Usually I didn't speak to her in such a way, but fear was clawing at my chest and I would've said anything to change her mind. "You can't just-"

"I can't what?" Her tone was sharp as it cut me off. I slunk down in my chair, all previous bravado gone with the intimidating arch of her eyebrow. "Keegan, the last time I checked, I was the head of this household now. I make the decisions. A little cooperation won't kill you."

I kept my mouth shut the rest of the move.

Reedsburg was the opposite of everything I'd ever known. I was ripped from the beauty and prestige of New England to the dump that was the Midwest. I had never considered myself to be a particularly judgmental person, but it was hard to adjust to nothingness when you'd always been surrounded by something. Even a Starbucks would've been nice.

"Turn that fucking thing off." It should've been my obnoxious alarm that awoke me on my first day, but instead it was my mother's voice, and the way she banged on my bedroom door. "If you're not up in ten seconds, I'm coming in with ice water."

"Got it, I've got it," I murmured, wiping the sleep from my eyes with one hand as I turned the alarm off with my other. As I adjusted to being alive and firmly planted in the real world again, the terror slowly washed over me. This was it. In just one short hour, I'd be walking into my worst nightmare.

I didn't need to make an impression. Even before, I was always alone more often than I was with friends. I had never gotten the hang of social interaction; people found me weird if they spoke to me too long, so I just kept to myself. Making friends wasn't what I was worried about. I was worried about the opposite. Of making an impression so bad that I was inked at the top of whatever asshole hit list I'm sure existed in the public schools of small towns. I'd seen the documentaries. I knew I was the perfect brand of oddball that administrators would deem "asking for it."

I put on my old boarding school uniform, deliberately ignoring my vanity mirror. I knew what I would see, and I had never been a fan. Dark hair that was always messy no matter how often I combed it; flabby arms and a weak frame; boring brown eyes. I silently begged the forces of the universe (along with my button-up and slacks) to help me fade into the background until graduation.

I held the terror at bay for all of breakfast and even the drive over. I was doing good, putting on a brave face in front of my mother lest I be reminded how selfish I was for complaining about the move in the first place. It would be ok, I kept telling myself. I would channel my father and keep my head high, like I had full control of the situation and nobody could tell me differently. I was Keegan Kearn, son of Liam Kearn, and it was time I started acting like it.

Then I stepped out of the car. It was like a thousand planes crashed at once inside of me. Students were mulling around on the green before the first bell and I could feel it – all their eyes on me. Being new had planted a giant target on my back, my front, my everywhere. Judgment, criticism, all around me. I was in their heads in ways I couldn't control and any ounce of confidence my father had tried to leave behind for me had died with him.

Breathing became harder. My knuckles were white as I squeezed around the straps of my bag for some kind of support. I focused my eyes downward, quickening my pace and telling myself over and over and over to just get through this. Get from point A to point B, I told myself. That's all you have to do.

I managed to screw it up, of course. Bumping into someone is what you get when you aren't watching where you walk. At first, I prayed it had been a column or a wall. Something slightly less humiliating. But this was too soft, too warm to be brick. Then it said, "Whoa!"

"Sorry, sorry," I rushed out, feeling my face light on fire as I hurried to escape this uncomfortable social situation I was about to trap myself in. "Sorry."

The person's arm reached out, stopping me. "What's the rush, buddy?"

"I'm sorry," I said again, still not looking at the guy I'd rudely run into.

"Heard you the first time, actually," he said. "We're totally square. Are you a freshman? I've literally never seen you before. Maybe it's 'cause you're tiny."

"I'm 5'5," I argued awkwardly. "And no, I'm a junior. I just transferred."

"Uh, it's March."

"Time is a social construct," I joked, starting to move away again. I hesitated when I heard him laugh. No one ever laughed at my jokes. He had a nice laugh. I finally looked at him.

Green, green hair. It was enough to do a double take. This wasn't Jared Leto as the Joker hair, but a deeper, emerald color that stood out against his brown skin. He was... very handsome. And cool. His form-fitting white t-shirt was so James Dean, and this guy had laughed at my joke?

"So today's numero uno for you?" he asked, raising an eyebrow and giving me a smirk that I'm sure meant 'you've been staring too long and I've noticed.' I looked away, my heart doing a panicked leap in my chest.

"Yes. Any advice, or is it an 'abandon all hope, ye who enter here' situation?"

He laughed again. It came from his stomach. My hands moved nervously around my bag's straps.

"We've sorta got that going on, but it ain't all bad. C'mon." He patted my shoulder, nudging me toward the school's front doors. "I was gonna go inside anyway. I'll let you meet some people who make the inferno a little more bearable."

I could've turned him down.

I could've stuck to my guns and had the uneventful year I had dreamed of.

But he laughed at my jokes.

And he understood my references.

And his hair was so ridiculous.

I walked inside my brand new school with a green-haired stranger. That's how the whole thing begins.