The One Real Thing Page 83

I’d later learn from her teacher that she’d faltered on a sequence of steps, something I hadn’t noticed, and that had seemingly messed with Julia’s head.

From what we could tell afterward, when we discussed it in the aftermath, the mistakes threw her completely.

I watched with horror as she stumbled on the landing of her grand jeté. The people beside me gave little intakes of breath as she righted herself and pushed through into her next movement. My fingernails curled into the arms of my chair.

And then it happened.

Julia had a difficult move where she was supposed to lower her front outstretched arm while in arabesque until her hand was almost touching the ground in high arabesque. I knew from her talking about it that it took a lot of core control and strength.

My stomach flipped as she teetered, lost balance . . . and fell.

I wanted to cry as I watched my sister just sit there on the stage, looking horrified and broken.

When she showed no signs of moving, one of the other dancers rushed over to her. She didn’t seem to hear her. Her dance partner, Micah, picked her up and hurried offstage with her.

I was vaguely aware of the rumbling murmurs of the audience, but I was too busy hurrying out of the theater to pay attention.

I had to get to my sister.

Heart pounding, I rushed through the back hallways of the theater, pushing past people to get to my sister’s dressing room.

I barged inside, the door slamming shut behind me, but she wasn’t there.

Fear, this inexplicable fear, gripped my chest and I spun around, yanking the door back open. But as I stepped out I fell, my stomach dropping as I plummeted into darkness, screaming.

My body slammed hard into something solid, but I didn’t feel any pain.

Until I opened my eyes.

I was in my parents’ basement.

No.

They’d never moved even though they should have.

So I’d never returned to the basement.

Until now.

That fear I’d been feeling paralyzed me.

But then I heard this ominous creak.

Not wanting to, but needing to, I turned slowly around.

And my whole world shattered.

The creak came from the rope tied to a pipe that ran along the ceiling of the basement. My sister’s body swung from it, making it creak with movement.

I stared at the rope around her neck, at the blue around her lips.

And I screamed.

I screamed and screamed until my voice couldn’t scream anymore and all I heard was the screaming in my head.

“Jessica.”

I flinched at the voice.

No.

NO.

NO, NO, NO!

I squeezed my eyes closed, feeling his breath on my ear.

“Now she’s mine for good,” he whispered.

My eyes flew open.

I stared up at the ceiling of the room I was in, the distant sound of the surf aiding me in remembering where I was, that I was safe.

That years had passed.

Tears stung my eyes as I sat up. I was covered in sweat, shaking with adrenaline from the part memory, part nightmare.

Part memory, part nightmare. “It was all a nightmare,” I whispered.

Picking up my phone on the bedside table, I lit it up: 4:44 a.m. And the date . . . the anniversary of Julia’s death.

Like clockwork. My nightmares were like clockwork.

My sister committed suicide a number of weeks after the performance that ruined her chances of getting into the School of American Ballet.

I was home from college and I found her in my parents’ basement.

Every year since, on the anniversary of her death, I had the same nightmare.

And usually for a week or so after, I’d have that nightmare every night.

I thought of Cooper.

If I spent the day ahead with him, he’d know something was wrong. Thankfully, I was working all day. I could convince him I was tired and that we could see each other the next day.

Having never slept in the same bed as anyone before Cooper, I didn’t know if I made noises during the bad dreams. I should avoid Cooper completely until it passed.

Yet, to my surprise, I didn’t want to.

I wanted to go to bed with him beside me, feeling safe.

Maybe with him beside me the nightmares would disappear.

I was willing to chance it, hoping that his presence would chase away my sister’s ghost.

“You know I love you the best, right?” I heard her say. I heard her say it all the time.

“I love you the best, too,” I whispered into the dark of my room.

TWENTY-TWO

Cooper

Her whimpers seeped into his subconscious first, slowly waking him like they had for the past four nights she’d spent in his bed.

Just as Cooper was opening his eyes he felt the bed shake with her legs thrashing.

“No,” she moaned, the pain in that one word piercing his chest.

He sat up and quickly turned on the lamp on his bedside table. The room was illuminated and so was Jess. Her body was covered in a light sheen of sweat and her face was contorted in agony as she whimpered and moaned her anguished noes.

“Jess.” He curled over her, his hands tight on her biceps as he spoke into her ear. “Jess, wake up.”

When she didn’t immediately, Cooper shook her a little, and her eyes suddenly popped open. They were rimmed with red, like she hadn’t slept at all.

This was getting out of hand.

“Coop,” she murmured, her chest rising and falling fast like she’d been running.

He pushed her sweat-soaked hair off her face. “Another one.”

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