I'm leaving for North Dakota in the morning. I'm all packed. Even though it feels like everything fell out from under my feet, I decided to trust my past self in her decision to leave. I still have that burning desire to see who I am when I'm removed from expectations. And whether Adam and Mom decide to divorce or work through their problems, I need some distance from them. I need to be far away so I can tell myself that whatever happens between them isn't my fault.

To answer a question Brendon raised, though: I believe the past does matter. So, though I may be moving on physically, I am not moving past this home, this family, my friends. I am giving myself the permission to grieve what I want to, leave behind what I want to, and keep what I want to. I'm keeping Brendon's phone with me. I'm keeping the quilt my mother sewed me, and the new clothes my dad got me to go with my hair cut, the doll Adam gave me back when we first met.

And I'm keeping Marina. We had a long talk about it at Denny's after prom. We talked about "long distance" and how everyone always says it doesn't work. But we want to try. If it lasts, good. If it doesn't, at least we both know we didn't throw away a relationship we both wanted just because we were scared about the future. And even if it doesn't last, I'll treasure our prom photos, the plush roses she won for me at Marine World, and all those late-night conversations preserved in Facebook Messenger. She stayed by me when no one else did, and that won't be erased even if we break up.

My childhood friend Lizzie contacts me just before I leave. She's home for the summer. She was going through her high school memorabilia and found Brendon's signature in her yearbook from his last year of high school. She sent me a photo on Facebook, along with a brief message: "Found this. I thought you'd want to see it. 3"

Even if I have to go and leave my friends behind
I hope, my friend, you know that I am always on your side

- Brendon

Author's Note: Thanks to anyone who has bothered to read this story. This is still an earlyish draft that is definitely going to need some reworking, and I would appreciate any advice at all. There are some bits that I know aren't right but I can't figure out why. And there's some characterization stuff I don't love. Marina in particular should be way more fleshed out than she is. I'm gonna let this draft sit for a while, work on other things, and revisit in a bit - hopefully after getting some feedback to steer me in the right direction. :)

...Anyway. I'm trying to find the words for some type of "if you're considering suicide, please get help" type message to put here, but I'm struggling to find the words that are the appropriate balance of not-too-personal and not-overly-generic-trite-platitudes. I would hope that this story's message would stand for itself, but I also know that even the most brilliant of novels (which this story definitely is not) can't change people's minds about something they truly believe to their core. If you believe you're worthless, that your life isn't worth living, that your loved ones don't need you, there's nothing I can say to change your opinion. But I can offer my sincere wishes and advice to seek help of some sort. Because you don't deserve to feel that way. Past mistakes can be overcome. Depression can be defeated. Someday you can be the person you used to be, or the person you've always wanted to be - the person with passions, drive, creativity, and love. In your future there's a story that only you are capable of telling, a hole in someone's life that only you can fill, a piece of art that only you can make, and a life that only you can live. Those things will never come to fruition if you give up.

Thanks again for sticking with the story.