Tragedy Girl - Christine Hurley Deriso


“Knock ’em dead, E. May I suggest the leopard-print leggings? ”

I squint to read the text as blanched sunlight seeps through the blinds of my new bedroom.

“No, you may not,” I murmur sleepily to myself with a smile. Leave it to Sawyer, my best friend from back home, to make sure I start even the least promising day with a smile.

I lean up on an elbow and glance at the clock on my bedside table: 6:20 a.m. The first day of my senior year will start in approximately ninety minutes. Whoop.

Sawyer never lets me forget the time I was sent home from school in tenth grade for a dress-code violation, prompting my impassioned Zola-esque speech about leggings fitting every criterion of pants, particularly when paired with a shirt that practically hit my knees. Sawyer rewarded me with a slow clap, but I still got sent home. “Leopard-print leggings” have been our most well-worn meme ever since.

“Muah, Sawbones,” I text back, then sign off with my customary “E.” He’s called me that since I emphasized when we met in grade school that my name was Anne with an E. He actually called me that for a long time—Anne with an E—then switched it up for a while by calling me E with an Ann—then shortened it permanently to E. My parents’ joint funeral three months ago was the only time he ever called me just “Anne,” a formality that chillingly drove home the new identity foisted on someone associated with a Terrible Tragedy.

That “Anne” seared my soul, made me realize I’d never be free of pity smiles or strained formality in my hometown ever again, even from Sawyer. It took a while to work out the details, but I decided then and there to accept my aunt and uncle’s offer and move three hundred and forty miles away to their home in the beach town of Hollis, South Carolina—on tiny Hollis Island—for my last year of high school.

So here I am.

Yet what have I really gained? Now, I get pity smiles and strained formality from my aunt and uncle rather than my friends back home. Not that I don’t appreciate their kindness. They’re just too earnest when they stress, for instance, that I should call this room my room rather than their spare bedroom, or that I should help myself to whatever I want in the kitchen because, hey, it’s my kitchen too! I miss the day when things just were. Let’s face it: when someone has to point out that a kitchen is your kitchen too, it’s not really your kitchen.

I put the phone down, swallow hard, and head to the bathroom (my bathroom, Aunt Meg perkily insists) for one of my three-minute showers.

Short showers and lightning-fast styling time are why I chopped off my auburn hair after Mom and Dad’s accident. I can’t stand the deafening hum of a blow dryer anymore. Who can afford to be lulled by the sound of white noise when god-knows-what can be unfolding just down the street? After all, I’d been in the shower that evening, deliciously oblivious as I massaged cucumber and sage-scented shampoo into my waist-length hair, when a drunk driver ran a stop sign and crashed into my parents’ car.

I’m not superstitious; I know awful things can happen whether or not I happen to be in the shower, or whether or not I’m being lulled into complacency by the white noise of a blow dryer. Still … vigilance. That’s my new approach to life. Then, even if the unthinkable happens, at least I’ll be paying attention.

I don’t know much anymore, but I know that I’ll never, ever let myself be blindsided again.

“Your first day!”

I smile weakly. Aunt Meg starts lots of conversations like this—blurting out a basic, obvious fact—but I know she means well.

“Yep,” I say, standing at the kitchen counter pouring milk over my cereal.

She tightens the sash around her pale-pink bathrobe, walks closer, and fingers my hair, still damp from the shower.

“Your haircut’s so cute,” she says. “So sporty and spunky, but still really elegant. Your cheekbones look amazing with short hair.”

“Thanks, Aunt Meg.”

She flicks a lock of blonde hair over her shoulder.

“Maybe we can get pedicures this weekend,” she suggests, and I nod, biting my lower lip as I glance through the kitchen window at the pine trees swaying in the back yard. I feel so claustrophobic in this house sometimes. I imagine myself running at full speed into the woods, my arms pumping as my sneakers