Bright Before Sunrise
Author:Schmidt, Tiffany

“I’ve just got to pull up the link.” Maggie’s fingers fly over the screen of her phone, then she pauses. “Oh, since you’re here, you can help too, Amelia. My mom likes the one where I’m leaning against the tree—is she crazy or what? My nose looks deformed, and I practically have a double chin.”


She holds her phone toward us: scrolling through photos with the words “Emerick Studios” watermarked across them. I try to concentrate on the screen, on pictures of her cute round face and brown hair, but she gestures as she speaks; the freckles on her photographed nose blur with the motion.


“You’re so prepared. I can’t believe you’ve taken senior photos already—I can’t believe we’re almost seniors.” I tip my head to match the angle she’s holding the screen.


“I wanted time in case I needed retakes. And I didn’t want to—”


“Here, give me that.” Amelia snatches the phone and holds it steady between us. A moment’s scrutiny later, she taps a picture. “Not the tree. This one.” She hands it to me.


“That one? Really? How can you like that one? It’s awful. My ears look totally crooked. Don’t they, Brighton?”


She steps in front of Amelia to look over my shoulder. Amelia scowls and feigns claws behind Maggie’s back. I fight a smile and sidestep to make room for her. “I think your ears look fine. Amelia’s got a great eye for this sort of stuff. I’d go with her pick.”


“But which do you like?” she insists, pushing my hand away when I try to return her phone. “I’ve got a favorite, and I’m trying to figure out if it’s really the best one, or if I’m fooling myself into thinking it’s good.”


No pressure there. I wish Maggie had given me a hint; not only which pictures she doesn’t like, but some clue about which one she does. I like the tree picture. I like the one Amelia chose. I scroll through them again, but they’re starting to blend into indistinguishable smiles and poses.


“Really, any of these would work.” I force the phone into her hand.


Maggie frowns. “So you think I should get retakes? Yeah, you’re probably right.”


“What? No, that’s not what I mean!” I don’t know how to speak more carefully than I already am, yet I still managed to say the wrong thing. “They all look good. You’re really photogenic.”


“But none of them have that standout, wow factor? And my senior photo should, since it’s going to be hanging on my parents’ wall forever.” Maggie sighs. “Okay, retakes it is.” She gives Amelia a look; I get a hug. “Thank you for being honest with me. You’re so right. I can get a better photo than these.”


There’s no way to contradict that without insulting her, but my stomach sinks as she types a response into her phone.


The bell rings. Maggie doesn’t stop typing. I clear my throat and Amelia laughs. “B, you know Ms. Porter’s not going to care if we’re late.”


Maggie finally pockets her phone and starts walking. “So, what are you doing this weekend?”


What are you doing this weekend? It’s a normal question. One I’ve answered every Friday since I reached the age of plan making. Today it glues my tongue to the roof of my mouth. I fidget with my ring, turning the emerald side in and squeezing my hand shut so it hits my palm. I don’t want to think about this weekend.


“—anniversary with Peter,” finishes Amelia. I should remember what her plans are. And which month anniversary it is. We spent last weekend picking out cologne for him. I can’t remember which one she bought. I should know this. Why can’t I remember? Six months? Eight?


Maggie nudges me with an elbow. “What about you? Do you want to come to the movies with us? We’re seeing Shriek 3.”


“Oh, I can’t.” I really hope she lets it go. Doesn’t pressure me or ask a lot of questions. “Thanks, though.”


“Come on! You should totally come.”


“I’ve already seen it.”


“So, what are you doing?” Maggie demands. “Are you going to Jeremy’s party?”


“I …” I stare at the groove Jonah’s locker left across the polish on my index finger. The tip of my thumbnail fits in it perfectly, and I scrape at the edge, making a scratch into a chip. “This weekend?”


We’re too far from the classroom door for me to avoid answering.


“Um, I’m …” I swallow.


My face doesn’t give anything away, but Amelia knows me well enough that she doesn’t need a signal. “Who’s going to the movies? It’s freakin’ scary. I’m surprised Peter and Brighton can still feel their fingers—I gripped their hands tight enough to cut off circulation.”


“I’ve heard it’s the scariest so far. I know I’m going to be terrified!” Maggie starts listing parts of the movie trailer, interrupting herself to name the group of people she’s going with.


Amelia bumps her shoulder against mine and gives me a small smile. It’s nice to know I don’t have to return it, because she knows what I’m thinking, but I force my lips upward and bump her shoulder back. If she could, she’d gladly share some of my dread about tomorrow. She’d pass me tissues and rub my back if I let her see me cry.


I can’t, though. I never could cry in front of other people. Not even when it first happened. Grief always feels too personal to be made public.


Five years tomorrow.