After
Author:Kristin Harmel

I went into the kitchen to make us some breakfast. I was determined to pretend that everything was normal until it actually was.

After scanning the fridge to see if Mom had picked anything up on her way home last night—she had—I turned the stove on and slipped three pieces of wheat toast in the toaster. I pulled out a frying pan, put it on the burner, sprayed it with PAM, and cracked three eggs into it, making sure their edges didn’t touch, the way Dad always used to when he made breakfast for us.

A few minutes later, I scooped the eggs, their yolks still runny, out of the pan and onto the toast. When I walked back to the living room, Tanner accepted his plate without even looking up. He was riveted to the screen.

“So what are you watching?” I asked after I’d set two juice glasses down and taken a bite of my toast. I knew it was The Crocodile Hunter, one of Tanner’s favorite shows, but I wanted him to say it. Ever since the accident, he had retreated further and further into himself, and now he hardly said a word, not even to his friend Jay, who came over to play video games once a week. Although, come to think of it, I hadn’t seen Jay for a while now. I wondered if he’d finally given up on Tanner.

Nobody seemed to care but me. I had tried bringing it up with Mom, but she just shrugged and said that it wasn’t all that abnormal and that Tanner would deal with things in his own time. But what did she know? She saw her legal assistant ten times more often than she saw her kids; Tanner was usually asleep by the time she got home. I had also tried talking about Tanner with Dr. Schiff, the psychologist my mom made us visit every other Saturday. But she had just told me that it wasn’t my responsibility. “You’re just a kid,” she would always say.

It always made my blood boil.

As usual, Tanner didn’t answer my question. Instead, he grabbed the remote and hit the Info button until the name of the show appeared at the bottom of the screen. He shot me a look and returned his attention to the TV.

“This looks like a good one!” I said enthusiastically, as if we were having a normal conversation. I fished for something else to say. “I really like how he explains everything so well. And his accent is really cool. Don’t you think?”

Tanner nodded without taking his eyes off the screen. He took another bite of his toast. I pushed mine away. I didn’t feel hungry anymore. I made some more cheerful, one-sided small talk before I gave up. Tanner obviously wasn’t going to respond. And I had run out of things to say.

“Okay, Tanner,” I said, feigning cheerfulness. “I’m going to go hop in the shower.”

I had just crossed the living room into the kitchen when I heard Tanner’s voice. I stopped and turned around.

“What?” I asked.

He was silent for a minute, and I started to doubt that he’d said anything at all. Maybe I’d imagined it. But then he spoke again.

“You know, he died too,” he said clearly, still staring at the TV screen. “The Crocodile Hunter. A stingray got him.” He looked at me, evidently expecting some kind of response.

I gulped. “Yeah, I know.”

“No one saved him either,” he said. Then, he turned the volume up. The conversation was over.

I stood there, my heart thudding in my chest. Guilt and responsibility weighed down on me, squeezing me from the inside out.

A hundred times a day, I thought about how different life would be if I hadn’t insisted on taking those extra moments in the bathroom. Or if I had cried out to warn Dad, in that instant before the Suburban hit us. Instead, I hadn’t reacted. It had been the only important thing I’d ever had to do in my life, and I’d failed. It was like Tanner said. Nobody saved the Crocodile Hunter.

And I hadn’t done anything to save my dad.

? ? ?



By the beginning of the next week, Sam Stone was the talk of the school. Summer Andrews had apparently decided that he was her big new love interest. It didn’t seem to matter to anyone else that Summer actually had a boyfriend, Rob Macavey, a senior with big arms, close-cropped dark hair, and eyes that were just a little too close together. Jennica and I agreed that he’d clearly been hit in the head one too many times on the football field.

But Summer, who didn’t even have a class with Sam, had decided that she had a crush on him, and so the whole school knew she had called dibs. I couldn’t understand why she couldn’t just limit the number of guys she tried to pounce on.

In class, Sam and I were apparently friends now. I supposed it was because he didn’t know anyone very well yet, and since he sat next to me in two classes, I was a logical person to strike up a conversation with. I was surprised to realize how much I liked talking to him, though. It started to be a routine that he would sit down in trig, grin at me, and rattle off the Red Sox score from the previous night, as well as some kind of commentary about a player who screwed things up—even if the Sox ended up winning. I’d been a Sox fan for years and could practically recite the roster in my sleep, but I’d never known a boy before who would talk to me about sports like I knew what I was talking about. It was nice.

After school on Wednesday, I was surprised to find Sam waiting for me by my locker. I’d had plans to go to the mall with Jennica and then study with her later, but she had texted me after the final bell to say that something had come up with her mom and she couldn’t make it. Concerned, I’d texted her back to see what was wrong. Don’t worry, she had written. Brian’s with me.

“There you are,” Sam said as I approached.

“Hey.”

“So how’s it going?” Sam asked. Was it my imagination, or did he seem nervous?

“Good,” I said. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what he wanted.

“So I hear you’re really good at trig,” he said. “Right?”

I shrugged. “I guess.”