The first was when I was thirteen and the yellow eviction notice appeared on our door in Delaware County, Ohio. That ending tasted like the cherry Popsicle I was eating on the stairwell and sounded like hushed, frantic whispers. A different end had already started, spooking researchers off the ocean and causing a round of layoffs at my father’s university. But I didn’t know it then.
We were moving to live in the back house on my grandmother’s property in the Pacific Palisades. My sisters had roots that would take anywhere—Harlow, the guitarist, and Vanessa, the gymnast. I didn’t really worry about me—I didn’t have a thing. I tinkered on the piano and sang when the sanctuary was empty in church. I drew waves on my wrist with glittery blue gel pens. I was just Charlotte, and at the time, in Ohio, that felt like enough.
I didn’t know then that this was the second of my endings, and one that happened slowly: when we arrived in Southern California and I realized it wasn’t enough anymore.
We’d seen Dean around the neighborhood before when we’d visit my grandma, but that day was the first time we really talked. It wasn’t some earth-shattering moment or anything. It was just a floppy-haired boy helping me when my Beauty and the Beast jewelry box clattered against the ground outside my grandmother’s tree-covered front yard.
He kneeled, grabbing the movie ticket stubs and braided friendship bracelets and other scraps of the life I had left behind, and handed them back to me. I watched his hand (big knuckles, scar on the back of his thumb) touch mine (small fingers and chipped Blackberry Crush nail polish).
Hey, he said, and his voice rumbled against my ribs.
Maybe meeting Dean wasn’t an ending, but I can tell you this: it was the promise of one.
When the real end of the world finally came, it was a long time coming. Two years of watching him sneak through the window next door, lopsided smile curling up as he climbed the tree that bridged our bedroom windows so we could play Mario Kart. His boyish grin now had the scruff of a seventeen-year-old, and he had to tilt his shoulders to fit inside. In two years’ time, Harlow played more gigs and was featured in a local arts magazine, her chin tilted up as she leaned against a brick wall. She hated how my parents put the article on the refrigerator. I think that’s why they did it.
Vanessa rose up the ranks in gymnastics—level ten. She placed second overall in regionals and took top five at countless other competitions.
In those same two years, my greatest accomplishments were the three journals I’d filled and tucked away in my desk.
But I forgot about that when Dean came over.
Harlow would pull sour straws from under her bed, and we’d play video games until we knew we would pay for it the next morning with tired eyes and blistered tongues.
Somehow, even with my gaze half fixed on the dip of his collarbone, I would always win.
That’s the ending that snuck up on me, and it felt like the grease of sunscreen and smelled like chlorine. That ending was purple, cast in the evening glow of one of the last nights of summer at the public pool. It sounded like the low rumble of Dean’s laughter mixed with my older sister’s voice—the one Harlow usually used on crowds before her band played. It looked like his muscled back, tensing against her as they intertwined and leaned on the brick of the shadowed part of the snack bar, his mouth on hers.
That was the first ending that really, truly felt like one. The kind that filled more journals and left tear tracks on my cheeks.
Smaller endings happened all the time, but they were the kind I couldn’t really see until later.
The footage from a research boat that disappeared after finding a shipwreck—footage that kept my dad up at his makeshift desk all night.
Then, about a week later, the news confirmed the spread of a strange sickness.
That night, Vanessa’s nightmares started.
That’s the ending that started everything, really. When the Crimson slipped across the planet like spilled wine and stained history forever. When the stories weren’t whispers, but screams.
When we couldn’t ignore it anymore.
When that ending—the Real Ending—reached my shore, it smelled like chalk and tasted like blood.
“THIS IS THE DUMBEST THING WE’VE EVER DONE,” Dean says, his voice somewhere between a whisper and a