The air began to cool, and the late afternoon clouds came to their resting places on the surrounding peaks. Parking spots and businesses along Main Street stood empty as Sunday evening slid into Raynesville. The theater's orange façade looked harsher in the late day sun. The monotony of the place could choke you like one of those stupid ties you have to wear to a wedding or funeral. But no matter how hard you dragged at your collar, the place sucked the breath out of you. Around the corner, the tall, white water tower threw a shadow across the road. This morning the words save me a place in hell had been scrawled in black paint along the water tank's perimeter. The sight of it had made my morning, but the graffiti had already been covered up. Stuff like that wasn't tolerated in Raynesville. (1.5)
This is what Jake sees when he looks around his hometown—and the whole scene seems pretty suffocating. Jake also realizes that this little town is not going to tolerate anything out of the ordinary.
Drinking beer in the moss covered skeleton of a bus, a relic left behind from a time when hippies lived in the surrounding forests, was not my idea of a good time. But here in Raynesville, the discarded bus was like our night club. (1.22)
This is a pretty weird place to hang out, but the kids in town love it anyway. Well, except for Jake. Without an actual nightclub, the Bus is the perfect place for teenagers to hang out, drink illegally, and generally make bad decisions.
Mr. Dermott, our teacher slash student advisor, shook his head. Dermott was not one of those pathetic teachers who tried to be cool. He was the real thing. In his younger years he'd been part of a rock band, and he'd won a few motocross championships. He had a major set of groupies around school who signed up for boring crap like Comparative Religion just to sit in his front row. (5.56)
Raynesville is exactly the kind of place where a guy like Mr. Dermott would be a rock star. It's a small town and he has a cool backstory, so it's no wonder these kids treat him like he's some kind of teaching god.
A line of royal blue and scarlet red championship banners fluttered as the glass doors shut behind me. Raynesville was a swimming town. There was a football team and a baseball team, but the swim team was the school's claim to fame. Raynesville infants were dropped into one of the public swimming pools before they could crawl. (9.1)
Most schools have football or basketball mania, but Raynesville has swimming. And because the team has always been so darn good, there's a whole lot of pressure on the kids who live in town to keep on bringing home those championships. Just keep swimming, guys.
"I don't understand what the big deal is." Dani was truly confounded by Blister's reaction.
"Old man Walker never talks to anyone. He just stands on his porch every morning making sure that no one disturbs his property. Not that anyone would with that beast on patrol." I stared straight ahead as I spoke to her. Her nearness always messed with my head, especially if I was looking at her incredible face.
"How do you know?" she asked.
"How do I know what?" I almost turned to face her, but I fought the urge.
"How do you know he was out keeping an eye on his property? Maybe he's just been waiting all this time for someone to wave to him." (17.13-17)
Dani's new to town, and that means she sees things that other folks in these parts don't. Avoiding Mr. Walker is a time-honored tradition, but Dani has no problem changing things up a bit. Way to be neighborly, Dani.
No one from our generation had jumped from the Ledge yet and for good reason. There was a good chance of painful death waiting for those who tried. Some guy from my dad's graduating class jumped and ended up shattering both his feet on rocks. He was in a wheelchair for two years until he took enough pain killers to take away the agony permanently. Not sure when it'd happened, but somehow I'd been the one chosen to make the jump. It might have even started back in seventh grade when Blister bragged to a group of kids that I was cool enough to try anything, even jumping the Ledge. I was pissed at him for saying it, and he'd been disappointed in me for five years for never jumping. (19.3)
The Ledge is one of those town legends that just never dies. People pass down stories about kids who jumped off the Ledge and survived (as well as those who didn't). In a small town like Raynesville, these local places take on mythical qualities. Jake is the one kid who could conquer the beast and even he won't rise to the challenge. Enter Dani.
"The girls put their names in a bag and each guy pulls out a name. The guy who picks the blank is the emcee. He takes the girls out into the forest, hides them, and ties them to a chair. Their eyes and mouths are covered. The guys then have to go out and find their partner, untie her, and carry her back to the bus. The last couple back loses the Game, and they must face the consequences."
Dani looked around at all the faces including mine. "Who on earth came up with that game?"
"Raynesville High kids have been doing it for years," Katrina piped up. "But then last year we stopped after—"
"Enough Katrina," I snapped. (21.8-11)
Ah yes, more traditions that sound pretty darn dangerous. When you're not drinking in an abandoned bus or jumping off a death cliff, you could be tied up and blindfolded alone in the woods at night. Wow. These kids in Raynesville really know how to have fun.
"Come on, Dude, the first meet means the first bonfire. It's tradition." Dani and Blister walked over just then.
"What's tradition?" Dani asked.
"We always have a bonfire at the bus after the first meet," Alex said.
Dani looked at me. "Sounds fun."
"I guess we don't want to break tradition," I said. (25.28-32)
Swimming = bonfires. It makes sense. You're going to want to dry off after all that time in the pool. While Jake's not much for all these old traditions, Dani is game to get involved. After all, these old town customs are still new to her.
She pulled at a strand of her wavy brown hair. "I don't even have the great hair going for me. Not that I care. I don't want to be popular. I just want to know that it's not a waste of my time spending six hours a day there."
"Sorry, Hannah. For someone with your brains, it will be a waste of time. You've just got to squeeze what you can out of it and wait for college. Then you can show the world how awesome you are." (29.69-71)
And this is high school in a nutshell for a lot of people. Hannah isn't looking to be the coolest girl in school, she just wants to fit in with the other kids. Jake realizes that she's different, and as we all know, Raynesville is allergic to differences.
"I spoke to Chief Moore today. He told me that the boy with the knife has been sent back to California to do some jail time. Seems that woman has only been here a few weeks and she's already brought a lot of trouble with her. It's no wonder Mildred never invited her daughter here to stay."
"It seems to me that Officer Moore is the one who brought the trouble to town by hiring that construction crew to build his shed. He already knew the guy was trouble last year when he hauled him in for being drunk," I said trying to control the anger in my voice. (31.10-11)
Jake's dad isn't too thrilled about the bad element that's moved into the community. He's quick to blame the newcomers in town for the problems, but Jake points out that one of Raynesville's finest is the one who brought the bad guys into town in the first place. People who live in glass houses, eh?
The vase of dead flowers and the pathetically filthy toy polar bear lay crumpled and dirty on the roadside memorial. Right after the suicide, the road had been lined with flowers, balloons, and hand-drawn posters declaring how much everyone had loved Amy. It was all such bull. The same people had never given her the time of day when she was alive.
The scent of lime drifted up from the unattended memorial. Someone had visited the spot recently and had left a bowl of something green. There was a little sign next to the bowl that read "in case there's no lime Jell-O in heaven. Love D." I stared at the bizarre tribute for a second then headed home on foot. (1.3-4)
Jake is really annoyed with the hypocrisy surrounding Amy's death. People who never cared about her in life are paying tribute to her in death. Maybe if some of those people had reached out to her while she was still alive, she never would have driven over that cliff. Just a thought.
Amy had said that she hoped there was lime Jell-O in heaven because she couldn't go an eternity without it. We'd laughed so hard green gelatin sprayed out of our mouths. Then she'd told me that she'd left her diary to me in her unwritten will and that I'd have to go through her underwear to find it. Of course, she had never expected to die. I know I'd never expected her to die.
My fingers trembled as I opened the cover. There would be so much of Amy in this book it would be impossible to get through it without a few major cries. But I had to read it. I needed to find out when it all went horribly wrong. I needed to know if her heart had been so broken by this guy, Jake West, that she'd driven herself off a cliff. None of it seemed liked Amy. She lived for romance, and she'd been hopelessly in love with the guy, but suicide seemed completely out of her character. Yet, according to Grammie, that was the conclusion the police had come to. We'd only heard sketchy details of the accident, no brake marks, no tire marks. The report stated that the car had been deliberately turned off the road. (4.23-24)
Suicide just doesn't make sense for Amy and Dani knows this right away. Amy loved life and she laughed all the time. Does that sound like a person who would kill herself over a boy?
Amy had already been in the ground a week before the beer bellied owner of the cheesy motel we'd been staying in knocked on the door to deliver the message as if he were telling us our laundry was done. "Some chick named Amy is dead. Suicide or something like that," he'd said and returned to his office. Mom and Grammie had had a horrible fight about it, and we ended up missing Grammie's funeral as well. I'd had no money to go on my own. After that, I'd told Mom that when she died I wasn't going to her funeral either and that would mean only two people would be attending, and she would be one of them. The grave digger would be the other. We didn't speak for three days. (4.7)
This is a pretty big blow. Dani loses her best friend and beloved grandmother within a few months—ouch—and because her mom is so messed up, Dani can't even make it to the funeral to say a proper good-bye. No wonder she has trouble dealing with this loss.
Blister sighed. "Every guy at Raynesville has wet dreams about the chick, and you avoid her like she's poison. Hey, you don't think she'll off herself like Amy, do you?"
I stopped and he took several more steps before realizing I wasn't by his side any longer. He glanced back at me. His face melted when he saw my expression. "Sorry, Bro, I didn't mean—"
"Too late, you said it." I stormed past him. "And if you think self-centered Katrina would kill herself because of me, then you don't know her at all." (5.27-29)
Even Jake's best friend thinks he was behind Amy's death. That's rough. This is also a pretty interesting comment: Jake doesn't seem to think that Amy is self-centered even though he believes she took her own life. Is he right? Is suicide a selfless act?
Side note: something is wrong with Ryan Wilford. I mean he has always looked small and frail like the guy only gets scraps of food at home, and he has those blue veins that are visible through the pale skin on his temples. In elementary school, those veins used to gross me out so much I didn't like to sit near him in the cafeteria. But today he looked smaller than usual. Almost like he was shrinking in on himself. He was sitting alone like always in the lunch quad with his shoulders hunched up around his ears, but when he went to put a chip in his mouth, I saw that his hand was shaking. Nobody ever seems to notice the guy, but I do. He's like that stray, little dog you pass on the side of the road, and you can't get it out of your mind. I'd never seen his hands shake. (8.28)
Our other glimpse at death in this novel is Ryan Wilford, who appears to be dying of cancer. People have the same view about him as they do of Amy, treating him like he's invisible instead of trying to reach out to him while he's alive. Poor guy.
"But religion helps us to face our own mortality." I spoke to her like she was the only person in the room.
She stared at me through a curtain of razor cut bangs. "I agree. Religion is a wonderful pacifier for people who are afraid of death. Every religion—"
"We're all afraid of death," I interrupted.
Our eyes locked again. Then she pulled her gaze from mine and faced the front of the room. I fell back against my seat as if I had been released from a giant magnet.
Dermott glanced at me then his eyes fell on her. "Well, do you agree with him, Dani?"
"Yes, we're all afraid of death, but we all have different levels of acceptance." She paused. "Some people even search out death." She stopped and I could see her close her eyes for a second like she blinked back tears. (11.20-25)
This is a pretty intense conversation for a high school classroom. Is Jake right? Does religion help us deal with death? Do we feel better about shuffling off this mortal coil if we think there's something waiting? Are we really all afraid of death? Gah—deep questions.
I dangled my feet over the cliff. It was one hell of a plummet. Then I thought about Amy. She drove her car off a cliff. You had to be brave to off yourself that way. The suicide had made Amy somewhat of a tortured hero for awhile. At least until the novelty of it wore off. The school planted a tree for her right next to Ryan Wilford's tree. He had died the same year of cancer. But his death hadn't been nearly as sensational as Amy's, so the poor kid died just like he'd lived, in quiet oblivion. (19.11)
Amy's and Ryan's deaths sort of complement each other—Ryan went quietly while Amy went out with a bang. Amy gets more attention due to the way she died, and Jake also clearly has some admiration for her. He thinks Amy was no coward and that it took guts to drive off that cliff.
"Amy didn't kill herself because of you."
Her statement stunned me at first. I stared out at the frothy water. "My head's not that bloated. I never thought she did. The town decided it was because of me. I know she liked me but…" (19.59-60)
Jake confirms what he probably knew all along: Amy wasn't the kind of person who would go to pieces over him. He might blame himself, but deep down he knows that Amy could have committed suicide for any reason.
"Death." I finished for him. "It's alright if you say the word Mr. Dermott, I know she died."
He looked slightly embarrassed. "It's just that it's always hard to talk about a student's death."
"Did she say anything to you in any of your meetings where she was thinking about suicide?"
His face blanched as he stared at me across his desk. "If she had, I assure you I would have mentioned it to her grandmother." He sounded defensive.
"I'm not accusing you of any negligence, Mr. Dermott. I'm just trying to find out what happened to my cousin. And if she did kill herself, I want to know why. She was always a happy person."
His shoulders relaxed some. "The police declared it a suicide, Dani. I know that can be hard to accept. She had a lot to deal with emotionally. Her mother died, she had an aging grandmother as her only family, and she was very concerned about her weight." (24.27-32)
Dani just isn't buying the fact that Amy went looking for death. Of course, Mr. Dermott is interested in pushing this theory for his own reasons. He's clearly given it a lot of practice and come up with a laundry list of reasons why Amy might have driven over that cliff. Heck, maybe he's even rationalized that night by telling himself that her little detour was intentional.
"Amy left me her diary. She was afraid to die young like her mother. She was afraid to die. She talks about it in her diary. That's why I know she didn't commit suicide." My voice wavered now. He shot me a look of sympathy as if I had no idea what I was talking about, and it angered me enough to jump up from the chair […] "My cousin was too damn smart to go dramatic and suicidal about a guy, any guy, even Jake West." (32.25)
Dani knows the truth about Amy, she just can't prove it. Amy just wasn't the kind of person to get so wrapped up in what other people thought of her that she'd decide to end it all. Amy didn't go looking for death—she was actually afraid of it.
The charred black spot where Amy's car had landed sat directly below. It was as if my own jeep had turned against me, breaking down there on purpose to remind me that I was a jerk. Not that I needed reminding. (1.2)
This is one of the very first images in the novel and it shows us right away how Jake is feeling—he's the one to blame for Amy's suicide. Harsh.
Two years ago I would have been stoked to have a chance to assist the coach, but now the idea sucked big time. And my enthusiasm to compete had disappeared with the rest of my old self. Once I'd realized how this town spread gossip, rumors, and blame like soft butter on hot toast, I'd convinced myself I had to get out of here fast after high school. I had to carry the blame for Amy's suicide so everyone else could feel better that they had nothing to do with it. (3.18)
Amy's suicide must have been a really big deal in a little place like Raynesville. When tragedies like this happen, people generally want to find some simple answer; the town's solution is to blame Jake. Case closed. If everyone accepts this then no one else has to think about how they might have played a role in Amy's death.
Dermott and I had gotten along well in my first two years. But after Amy's suicide, he'd made it clear that I was to blame for her out of control dieting and downward spiral. He'd decided it was necessary to hire slick, preachy speakers to come and talk to the whole student body about saying hurtful things to each other. We'd had three assemblies last year alone, and every time I waited for a giant spotlight to come out of the auditorium ceiling and shine on my seat. (5.56)
Wow… Mr. Dermott is a pretty huge jerk. He basically paid people to come to school and talk about bullying in order to reinforce the idea that Jake's cruelty is what drove Amy over the edge. That's bullying turned up to eleven.
I should have been there for her. She was so totally alone. She should have been there for me. I was so totally alone. We should never have been separated. (10.8)
Jake isn't the only one feeling guilty over Amy's death; Dani wishes she had been able to be there for Amy. If Dani had been around, maybe Amy wouldn't have spiraled into such a terrible depression and none of this bad stuff would have ever happened. Maybe.
I knew the question on her lips. Why'd you do it? I dragged my gaze from hers.
"It was five stupid words. Amy was never supposed to hear them." My thoughts finally broke free, words I'd wanted to say to Dani since she'd walked into class. "I had no idea she was behind me, or I never would have said it." My jaw clenched as I thought about that day. I'd been set up by my own friends. They knew Amy was standing nearby. "It was too late. She'd heard me and when I'd seen the hurt expression on her face, I'd wanted to throw my fist through a wall. It was one of those regretful moments in life you can't take back." (17.33-34)
Jake might not think Amy killed herself over him, but he still feels badly that Amy essentially overheard him calling her fat (and undesirable for being so). Maybe that was what he thought, but he realizes how cruel it was to say it out loud and that's why he feels terrible. Blame is a complicated thing.
"Maybe no one is responsible, Dani. Maybe it's just like the report said. Maybe she killed herself. Or maybe she fell asleep at the wheel. Or maybe a deer jumped in front of her. Maybe she was a crappy driver. Maybe you should stop obsessing about it." The words shot out like bullets and each one brought her closer to tears and now my chest ached more. (27.65)
Jake makes some good points here. Dani is on the lookout for some answers, but Jake tells her she may never find them—Amy's death might have just been one of those things that happen without it being anyone's fault. This is tough for Dani to accept.
I didn't know why I couldn't accept the fact that Amy killed herself. Maybe I didn't want to think she'd been so sad and so alone that she'd finally decided life wasn't worth it. When I read her words and looked at her pictures, it was hard to comprehend how she could have been brought low enough by life's cruelties and mishaps to kill herself. Mostly, I was feeling guilty at the thought of it. I'd been hiding in sleazy motels, and she'd had no one to talk to. (28.1)
Dani can't blame Jake for hurting Amy when she failed her, too. Dani had her own problems, so she couldn't be there for Amy when she needed her. Would things have been different if Dani weren't on the run?
"Stay away from Dani Spencer. She has a good chance at a scholarship, and she doesn't need you hanging around screwing up her opportunity."
"What are you talking about? And how is it any of your business if we hang out together?"
His nostrils flared in anger as he put his fists down on the desktop and leaned forward. "You've done enough damage to her family. You don't need to mess with Dani's head too."
"You sound just like the coach only he wasn't quite so threatening. I know the coach is just worried about winning, but I don't get your motive. How can I possibly stop her from getting a scholarship?"
His jaw was clenched tight. "Because you're a player, Jake. Everyone knows it." (29.42-46)
Slam. Mr. Dermott isn't the only one who thinks this about Jake, but he's the one who says it most boldly: Jake messed with Amy and now he's messing with Dani, too. So not true, though…
"Jake doesn't deserve any of the grief he's been given about Amy's death. She adored him, yes. And he said something stupid that I'll never forgive him for… I doubt he'll ever forgive himself, but he had never intended to hurt her. That I know for a fact. And my cousin was too damn smart to go dramatic and suicidal about a guy, any guy, even Jake West." (32.25)
Dani finally sticks up for Jake. She realizes that he's not the one to blame for Amy's death, and while she may never know what really happened, she knows Amy didn't kill herself because Jake West thought she wasn't thin enough. Amy was a stronger person than that.
"It was all her fault. She claimed she was going to tell the school board. I went to stop her. I had no idea she would swerve off the road," Mr. Dermott blurted. Sweat was pouring off of his forehead, and his eyes nearly popped from his face. "I tried to climb down to help, but the car burst into flames. It was hopeless."
"You and Amy?"
"It was just a brief affair. It meant nothing." His eyes grew wider.
"You caused Amy's death?" I could hardly believe I was saying it. "After everything you did to make me feel responsible for it, you were the cause of it all along." (35.33-36)
And now it all comes out. Mr. Dermott is the one responsible for Amy's death. It's interesting how he opens his little confession by blaming Amy. Yeah… you go with that, Mr. Dermott. Needless to say, Jake is pretty ticked that Mr. Dermott tried to pin everything on him when he knew Jake wasn't to blame at all. This teacher is one very bad dude.
Now, it seemed, we had a chance to sleep in a place where we didn't have to shove a chair beneath the doorknob for safety. Now, it seemed, we had a chance to stay in one place longer than four months. Now, it seemed, we had a chance to be normal. (2.19)
Yay for normalcy. For Dani, a home means a chance at an average, run-of-the-mill life, which sounds pretty good after years of living with a drug-addicted mother.
We both stared at the house then willed our feet forward. Suddenly we had a home, a safe place to be, even a small bank account. It was a foreign feeling for the both of us but especially for me. I'd never had a real home before. Mom had even managed to get me yanked from our sordid existence twice. Once, I ended up in a foster home where the people ignored me as if I was merely a piece of furniture. The foster mom, who scowled from the moment she woke up until she shuffled off to bed at night, poured a ton of salt into everything she cooked. (2.18)
Even Dani's life with her mom wasn't a real "home." They moved so much and Dani was in constant danger of being removed from her home. Now they finally have some security. Fingers crossed that it lasts…
The car tossed up a cloud of dust as it climbed the unpaved road to Grammie's house. The house was small and needed paint, but orange and white wildflowers lined the front yard, and a porch surrounded it. It was the first time I'd seen the house […] We never visited Grammie here.
"Damn, I guess this is it." Mom shut off the engine. She stared through the filthy windshield. "It ain't much."
I looked over at her. "You're right. Let's go back to that sleazy motel on the highway. I'm feeling homesick for the fragrance of stale cigarette smoke, carpet mold, and whatever the heck that other smell was." (2.12-14)
Grammie's home might not be much to look at, but Dani realizes right away that it's way better than the places she's been hanging in. Home sweet home, it is.
My mom burst into the room. "I don't know about you but I hate this place already."
"That's because it belonged to Grammie," I said. "I'm not moving again, so if you don't like it, leave. I'm staying." (4.12-13)
Dani's mom isn't feeling the love in this new house. She didn't really get along with Grammie, so it's no surprise that she doesn't really like the place where Grammie lived. Dani is all-in, though, and she's prepared to stay on her own if she needs to. After all, there's no place like home…
For most kids, or at least those with normal moms, they walk into a house filled with the smell of chicken frying or potatoes baking. For me, it was nail polish and burnt microwave popcorn. Mom had her toes propped up on Grammie's antique coffee table. She was bent over her legs, one hand holding a nail polish brush, the other holding charred popcorn. Yet I was glad that I had a home to walk into. (8.1)
Okay, so it's not home sweet home quite yet. Dani's mom isn't too into making their house a home, but Dani is determined to make the best of things with this new roof over their heads.
The lines on her face deepened, and I realized even though she was still young, the life she'd led in the last decade had aged her. "Where is he now?"
"In jail, I think."
"Jail? How? Why?"
"He sliced open Jake's hand with a knife."
Mom slumped back looking as if she might throw up. "Oh my God, Dani. What have I done?"
"Mom, you can hardly take blame for the fact that Cody is a psycho."
"The town will blame us—me. I'm sure they've never had trouble like this before. My ugly skeletons followed us after all." Her voice was shaky.
I placed my hand on hers. "Mom—" A car pulled up in front of the house.
Mom nearly fell over the coffee table as she jumped up to race to the window.
"Relax, Mom. His dad's in jail."
She nodded. "Good to know." (26.135-145)
You can move but you can't totally move on. Dani and her mom are desperate to get away from their old lives, but can't seem to kick things completely. Personally, we're blaming Cody on this one. Feel free to join us.
"You should be on an Olympic team."
"Yeah, well, it's kind of hard to train for the Olympics when you're moving from town to town every few months."
"You're staying here though, right?" Blister asked abruptly.
I nodded. "I think so. I hope so." An uncomfortable silence fell over the group, and I wished I hadn't said anything. These people had probably always had a home right here in Raynesville. They'd all had the life I'd always dreamed about, stable and predictable. (26.50-53)
Dani might have talent in the pool but she's never been able to take advantage of it. If only she'd had a home like these kids in Raynesville. These guys don't know how good they have it.
I climbed into the backseat feeling sick from the events. He'd been following me all this time, the sick creep. And now my sordid life had brought ugliness here to Raynesville. Now everyone here knew what kind of life I'd come from. But mostly it made me sick that Jake knew. (26.82)
Starting fresh is a good thing but Dani can't seem to get it right. She might have left behind her crazy past and settled down in a new place, but those tough times keep coming back to haunt her. Can't she just be normal for two minutes?
"Your mom is pretty cool. Does she like it here?" I asked. "It seems kind of slow-paced for her."
A small grin tilted the corner of her mouth causing her scar to tip up with it. "My mom has suddenly taken to this relaxed style of life. I'm finding it all rather bizarre, but I'm trying not to think about it too much. I don't want to jinx it." We started walking back up the road.
I could see her beautiful profile under the hood of her sweatshirt. I had a terrible urge to grab her hand, but I stuck my own hands in my sweatshirt. "I hope you stay here. It's dull, but it's a nice place to call home, I guess." My own words surprised me but deep down I knew they were true. And listening to Dani talk about her life, I realized just how easy mine had been.
"All my life I've wanted to live the perfect family life, but I've never gotten close to it." (31.57-60)
Dani's mom is really warming up to Raynesville. She may have lived a wild life but this small town stuff is really growing on her. For Dani, Raynesville is pretty much a dream. Sure, she might not have the perfect family, but she does still have a pretty amazing home. Even Jake has to admit that this little town isn't so awful after all.
We walked back home to inspect the house. My skin crawled with the thought of someone prowling around our things. And knowing I'd been inside with the intruder was enough to make we want to sleep with the lights on like I had when I was ten and the man next door to us had been killed. It had taken me over a year to decide I could turn off the light in my bedroom. And even though Mom had shared the same room with me, she hadn't complained. She let me sleep with the light on. (34.1)
There's nothing worse than the feeling of being violated—especially in your home. Dani saw her house as a secure base and now some creep has broken in (we're looking at you, Mr. Dermott) and she's got the willies, big-time.
A tray of used paint bottles and a bundle of worn paintbrushes sat next to the box. Growing up, it was rare to see Amy without a brush in her hand or a smudge of paint across her face. I was always jealous of the fact that so many incredible, lifelike images flowed from her brushes, and I could barely scratch out a stick figure. (4.22)
While Amy envied Dani's good looks and confidence, Dani was really jealous of her cousin's ability to paint. Maybe because art is an excellent way to express what you're feeling? Could Dani use an outlet like that, too?
I opened the journal. On the inside cover Amy had sketched a guy with wavy hair, a five o'clock shadow, and a wickedly sexy smile. Underneath she'd scribbled "Note to self: if you get to heaven and happen to run into Charlotte Brontë let her know that this is how Mr. Rochester should look." I smiled. Only Amy would dream about meeting Charlotte Brontë in heaven just so she could discuss Mr. Rochester. (4.26)
Another book, another romantic hero. Amy seems to think she's found her dream guy from the novels she reads in the form of Jake with his gorgeous hair and sexy stubble. You can't say she doesn't have good taste.
She stood in front of Amy's painting. "Damn, that kid had talent. What a waste." She spun around. "Did you see that wall in the dining room with the corny paint-by number picture collection? Those are definitely coming down."
"Grammie painted those. You're not taking them down." After the long ride here, where we'd spent half the trip screaming at each other and the other half sulking in silence with the radio blaring, I'd had more than enough of my mom for the day.
"They are ugly."
I clutched Amy's journal against my chest. "No, that hideous looking skeleton tattoo on your forearm is ugly. Grammie's paintings are cool. Don't even think about touching them." (4.14-17)
Amy obviously got all the artistic genes in the family because Grammie's paintings aren't much to look at. Dani doesn't care, though—she loves being surrounded by her family's artwork.
My fingers traced the letters etched on the front of Amy's journal. "Heathcliff was the ultimate bad boy, but Mr. Darcy had Pemberley." With her artist's eye and colored pencils, Amy had made it look like the skillful tagging you'd see on the underpass of the freeway.
Amy lived for romance […] That horrible summer when Amy's mom died of heart failure […] I'd yank my pillow onto the floor, flop back, and listen to Amy read from a romance book. Amy's mom hadn't left her much and her collection of romance novels was worth nothing but to Amy they were priceless. (4.9-10)
And so begins Amy's obsession with romance novels. She adores every love story she comes across and wants to find her real-life version of the heroes in those stories. But do guys like that really exist? She'll find out soon.
Spring formal has everyone in a frenzy at school. I intend to stay home, bathe in a tub of chocolate frosting, and watch Pride and Prejudice for the hundred and fiftieth time, wishing that someone would look at me from across the dance floor like Mr. Darcy looks at Elizabeth. (10.7)
We're not going to argue with Amy—Mr. Darcy is pretty amazing. But is Amy holding herself back from a chance at a real relationship by comparing her ideal guy to a fictional one?
Now, standing outside the classroom, I badly wanted to give her my assessment of Mr. Dermott, her Mr. Knightly. I would tell her she knew a romantic hero when she saw one. The guy was dreamy, smart, and confident. And the fact that he'd come to her rescue that day made him close to perfect in my mind.
Further down the hall, Jake stood talking with a group of guys […]
Our gazes met and stuck there until I pulled mine away. The jury was still out on Amy's other pick for romantic hero. Dreamy, smart, and confident, yes, but his character was harder to read. (12.1-3)
Mr. Dermott fits into the romantic hero mold (or so Dani thinks), but she's not so sure about Jake. Dani wants to hate him for what he said, but she keeps finding out about his good qualities. He sounds more and more like Mr. Darcy every day.
Dani was staring up at me. It was obvious she was assessing how much of my confession was the truth. But it was all true. "You were her romantic hero."
I looked away. "They only exist in books."
"I think she discovered that the hard way." Her voice cracked as she spoke. (17.35-37)
Jake is kind of right here. Amy was looking for an idealized form of love that she couldn't ever find in the real world. But is that the reason she killed herself? Was it death by romance novels?
We stepped inside the pipe. The air inside was thick with the smell of moss. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the lack of light but once they did my mouth dropped open. The sides of the tunnel were painted with a collage of pictures. They were from Amy's brush. I would have recognized her art anywhere.
Now Jake released my hand, and I moved closer to the pictures. Familiar faces stared back at me including Grammie, Amy's mom, and Amy herself. There was a picture of two little girls feeding ducks. That was us. We used to walk down to the city park with old bread to feed the birds. In the center was a picture of Jake on his horse. "This is incredible." A whisper of my voice echoed back at me. "How did you find this?
"One day I was feeling particularly sorry for myself, and I came down to the bus to be alone. Amy walked by with a bucket of paints. She didn't know I was there. After she left, I followed the path she'd taken and found this."
I fingered the colors on the metal walls of the pipe. This was the place she'd talked about in her diary. A place where she could paint to her heart's content and no one would bother her. "It feels like someone has gone over the paint with a clear coat of varnish. Like they were trying to protect it." I glanced up at Jake. He was staring shyly at his feet.
"It was you."
"Just thought it was cool enough to preserve," he said quietly. He smiled and lifted his gaze to the paintings. "After all, she did make me look pretty awesome sitting on that horse."
I smiled. "She sure did." I walked the length of the pipe. She'd been about ten feet from covering the entire surface with art. (20.14-20)
Amy's secret painting place is pretty amazing. Again Dani really envies Amy's ability to use art to capture all the happiest moments in her life. Jake hasn't told anyone about this place until now. He's kept it a secret and even preserved Amy's paintings so that anyone who stumbles on this little hideaway can enjoy her talents.
I pulled the first tire up and rolled it away. Then the second. We both stared at the revealed picture. The rest of the pictures were brightly colored images of people, animals, and flowers. This picture was painted in black, white, and red. It was a mouth taking a bite from the palm of a hand. Blood sprayed from the hand.
Dani sank to her knees and looked closer at the rather disturbing picture. "Why would she draw this? It's so horrid. I never saw her draw anything like it before."
"Yeah, I've got to say that is pretty bizarre for an Amy painting."
Dani touched the edges of the paint. The strokes looked heavy and thick as if they'd been dashed off in anger. (27.57-60)
Art doesn't only help Amy hold onto happy times, it helps her express some really scary moments. Here her style is different because her mood is different, but the message is clear—something really messed up happened and Amy just had to paint about it.
His mouth covered mine, and I thought Miss Austen could have her Darcy, and Miss Brontë could have her Heathcliff. I had my Jake. (36.19)
Okay, so at the end of everything, Dani realizes that Amy was right after all: The kind of love and connections you find in books are totally real. It might be a little different than what happens on the page, but it's still pretty darn amazing.
Speaking of stupidity, I walked into the yardage store to help Grammie, and Mrs. Busby, the owner, smiled at me in that sympathetic way and said to Grammie; she has such a pretty face. If ever there was a backhanded compliment in the world of backhanded compliments that was it. If there was a dictionary of underhanded compliments it would be right there on the front page beneath "what a pretty dress, did you sew it yourself" and "what did you do to your hair, it looks so different." This was one I used myself the other day on Katy Hoffman. I really wasn't trying to be mean, but the front was longer than the back and the entire haircut was rather disturbing. She must have gone to a salon without mirrors. Anyhow, I wanted to let Mrs. Busby know that the face came with the rest of me and that the rest of me was feeling quite insulted, but Grammie shot me an admonishing look so I smiled and nodded. (4.31)
Amy knows how people see her and she's not happy about it. Inside she's an awesome person, but outside all people see is that's she's overweight. Of course, she admits to doing the same thing to other people, too, so maybe we're all guilty of these little backhanded compliments when it comes to the way people look?
Jake sightings, three. Once coming out of the gym. Wet hair and glorious smile. Once in the cafeteria, but only from behind. Great view of his butt! Enough said. Once as he drove past in his jeep. The human troll with the size D cups clung to him from the passenger seat. Daydreamed for a minute that he took the turn too fast and Katrina flew out head first into a garbage can. A girl can dream, can't she? (4.29)
This entry from Amy's diary details just one of the many reasons she likes Jake—his good looks. It also hits a few jealous notes. Amy is clearly annoyed with Katrina, who is not the nicest girl at school but has the goods and snags Jake's attention. Ugh.
"I'm sure the principal will want to meet you. He'll decide whether or not you can stay in that attire today." She motioned through the small swinging door and led me to an office. She knocked and poked her head inside. "New student."
I stepped inside. The principal looked like every other principal with a charcoal gray suit, a collar that was one size to small, and a waist that was one size too big. This one wasn't as practiced at receiving nonconforming students as most. His mouth hung open slightly for a second, then he gathered himself and sat forward. He was about to speak but I spoke first.
"I've been to four high schools in three years, I'm a straight A student, I had a near perfect score on the SAT in my sophomore year, and I've broken ten swimming records.
And the girl whose name is on the plaque in front of that pathetic tree seedling in front of the school was my cousin."
The principal's mouth dropped open again. His gaze dropped to my bare legs and black boots for a second. Then he picked up a pen and pulled a piece of paper from a green pad. He scribbled a few lines and handed me the note. "Dress more appropriately tomorrow. This note is to let teachers know you're staying today. First period is starting right now." (6.17-21)
The ladies in the office and the principal only see Dani's revealing outfit, but Dani makes it clear that she's made up of more than what she's wearing. Hey, her brain is up here, guys.
It didn't matter where I sat. I couldn't hear anything Ms. Miller was saying over the pounding in my chest. And I couldn't see anything past the doll-like profile of the new girl. Amy's cousin. She looked absurdly girlish beneath the harsh layers of make-up, denim and leather. Aside from a tiny scar on her upper lip and a short jagged scar on her chin, she was flawless. (7.17)
So Dani is pretty gorgeous and as soon as she walks into class all the teenage boys are drooling over her. But Jake's probably the only one to notice Dani's one tiny imperfection—the scar on her face. Hmm… this new girl has some secrets.
Now for the juicy stuff. This was the part of the day where I truly wish I knew how to channel people. Dani, I would have channeled your smooth, cool confidence. And maybe those friggin' legs of yours. Really, cuz, how could we have the same genes? You've got long, sleek thighs while mine look like lumpy potatoes.
I stared at the way she'd written my name. She always made the D extra fancy. I shut my eyes for a minute to see her face. She'd envied my legs, and I'd always envied her incredible hazel eyes and button nose. (8.31-32)
Amy thinks Dani managed to get all the super hot genes in the family, but Dani doesn't see things this way. She loved Amy's face and her beautiful eyes. Sometimes it hard to appreciate what's cute about ourselves, isn't it?
Katrina stood up and peeled off her sweatshirt like she was an artist lifting the curtain on her masterpiece. Alex and the other clay heads sitting with him howled like wolves from their perches. Apparently the freshman boys had never witnessed this unveiling. They froze at the sight of it. (13.16)
We'll give Katrina credit: She has the goods and she knows how to use them. Katrina is the hottest girl in school, hands down, and it's pretty clear that she generally uses her beauty to get what she wants.
My hair nearly touched my shoulders when I combed it wet. I was surprised the coach hadn't said anything about it. Apparently he didn't want to ruffle my feathers. I hadn't been growing it long to annoy my parents. It was a tribute of sorts. But the person I'd grown it long for was no longer here to see it. I think she would have appreciated it. (15.9)
No one seems to like Jake's long hair, but he knows that Amy did since before she died she painted Jake with long hair riding his horse. Now he's changing up his look in honor of her. Aw.
Big question of the day. Why is it so easy to make gargantuan goals and plans for life improvement at night when you're in bed? Last night I told myself that in the morning I would begin a strict diet like the supermodels use, like the mango and chicken feet diet, where all you can eat for the day is one slice of mango and the dried foot of a chicken. (That's for the protein.) I drifted off thinking that was that, I would begin my diet and be gorgeous and slim by summer. Then morning comes and I walk to the pantry and pull out the brown sugar Pop Tarts. I toast two and eat the other two raw while I'm waiting for the first two to heat. Although, is a Pop Tart considered raw if it hasn't been toasted? Hmm, something to ponder? Anyhow, I down breakfast pastries knowing full well they do not fit into my earlier planned strict mango and chicken foot diet. It's like all my resolve and determination stayed right there on my pillow waiting for my head to return. (16.36)
Amy's got a point here. It is pretty easy to commit to things and then drop the ball later. On the flipside, though, part of following through is setting realistic goals—and starvation isn't a super realistic goal. Plus, who wants to eat a dried chicken foot?
I grabbed a chunk of pages and flipped closer to the back. The entries got shorter. One entry had a self-portrait where she was unzipping a fat suit and a skinny, bikini-clad Amy stepped out of it. She had a huge grin on her face.
Now that there's less girl, there doesn't seem to be enough of me to go around. Alex invited me to the bus, which was sort of like waking up in another world. Never did I think I would get an invite like that. (18.13-14)
And sure enough, Amy does burn off some of the pounds. With her new look comes new attention from the guys. She's clearly excited, but maybe not prepared for her whole new life as a skinny girl.
Why did no one warn me that being thin sucked? If this is what real life is then give me back my blubber suit and shove a romance novel in my chubby fingers. I'm going back to friends I can count on like cupcakes, mashed potatoes and chocolate shakes. (22.4)
Poor, Amy—she changes her appearance but finds out that seeing lower numbers on the scale doesn't make her life all sunshine and rose petals. What really breaks our heart, though, is that she thinks of food as her only friend. It seems like she's really lonely.
I tucked Amy's journal beneath my arm and walked over to her window seat. The tartan patterned cushion had been worn to mere threads on the left side. I sat there, where Amy must have sat hundreds of times reading her romances. My gaze strayed to the window and the house at the end of the street. Amy had told me in an email once that she could see his house from her window. I wondered how much time she'd spent staring at it, waiting for a glimpse of the guy who she'd spent every waking hour dreaming about, the guy whose cruel words had splintered her into a million pieces, the guy who had barely even known she'd existed. (4.11)
Amy's version of love comes at a distance and with a side of heartbreak. She never told Jake how she felt but she was definitely in deep with him, which made his cruel joke hurt all the more.
I was such a naïve goof thinking I could just walk in, find Jake West, hate him instantly, and reduce him to whimpering rubble. First of all, he didn't seem the least bit despicable. Secondly, everyone, including the teachers, seemed to worship him so why would he care about me, and thirdly… I didn't have a three, but why the heck did Amy have to go so batshit crazy over him?
There were plenty of less spectacular guys milling about the halls. My cousin was always looking for her romantic hero, only now, her story had ended but without the kiss or the happily ever after. (8.3)
So love doesn't end too well for Amy. She pretty much adored Jake and he kind of laughed in her face. She was hoping for the kind of romance that she read about in novels but she didn't get that fairy tale ending. Bummer.
"Shut up, you ass." Blister looked at me. "Hey, speaking of Dani, you don't seem interested in dating her. It's—it's just an observation," he stuttered. "Plus I figured since she was Amy's cousin and all."
"I actually haven't given her much thought at all," I said coolly, belying the molten heat rising in my veins. "Did she say something about Amy? Did she say something about me?" I wanted to kick myself for sounding like an anxious little kid. (9.33-34)
Oh, wow—this kid has got it bad. Showing too much interest in Dani is not smart (you know, since everyone thinks he drove her cousin to suicide). This gorgeous, perfect girl cannot possibly like him back, right? Right?
Blister dropped his backpack between his legs and leaned forward. "Dude, she is so freaking hot I can barely breathe around her."
That was more like it. And I was glad that I wasn't the only person having this reaction to her. No doubt it was because she was new and astonishingly sexy. Katrina was sexy too, but eventually she'd lost her shine. Dani would be out of my mind in no time. (9.29-30)
Jake is falling for Dani even though he realizes it's probably a bad idea. He comforts himself by thinking this love spell will pass him by pretty soon. Yeah, good luck with that, Jake.
Bright spot of my day. I had a Jane Austen moment. In Emma, super sophisticated Mr. Knightly comes to Harriet's rescue on the dance floor after Mr. Elton's been a jerk to her. Mr. Dermott was my Mr. Knightly today. We had to pick partners in history. Everyone had a partner. Even my one true friend, Katy, was asked by Brian Folger to be his partner. She looked at me sort of pleadingly, and I nodded for her to go with him. I mean after all what kind of friend would I have been to say no. She really likes the guy. Everyone coupled up and yours truly was sitting alone on her massive butt with no partner. And it wasn't even kickball. I mean, I'm terrible at sports, but I'm pretty damn good at writing a history report. So Mr. Dermott walked over, pulled up a chair, sat down with that heart-stopping smile of his, and said "Well, I guess it's you and me kid." Then he leaned closer and said "Frankly, I think I won on this deal." Don't' know what soap he uses but he smells heavenly. The rest of the girls looked jealous. (10.11)
Okay, so this is a little weird. Amy not only sees Jake as some dreamboat out of a novel, she's casting Mr. Dermott in her love stories, too. Even though Mr. Dermott's actions here could be considered above-board, it's clear that this is actually his in with Amy. Poor girl.
Jake's head popped up when he saw me standing with the horses. I contemplated rushing back to the house, but that would have looked more than slightly ridiculous or mean. Truthfully, I wasn't quite sure how to react to the guy. As he approached, I felt a flutter go through my chest. Amy knew breathtaking when she saw it. And then, for a moment, I imagined myself with Jake West, the guy who'd invaded Amy's heart, and even though she was gone, I felt like a traitor for even thinking it. (14.5)
There are a lot of complicated feelings swirling around in the air in Raynesville. Jake is a certified hottie but Dani just doesn't feel right about swooning over him. After all, this is the guy her cousin liked—and the guy who ended up breaking her heart. Girl code says Dani can't date him, right? Hmmm… maybe we better review that girl code again.
"Because Amy loved you, and she was the smartest person I knew. She wouldn't have been so crazy about you if you'd had even an ounce of evil in you. She was a great judge of character." I took hold of his fingers. They were cold but heat seemed to radiate where our skin touched. Gently I wound the gauze around his hand. His breath warmed the side of my face as I held his hand. Warm tension grew between us as we stood side by side watching the wrap go around his hand. (30.42)
So the fact that Amy loved Jake is a point in his favor. Amy is vouching for this guy so Dani knows that deep down he's a good guy. So. Much. Romantic. Tension.
Yesterday, I'd been nervous about facing Jake because I'd hurt his feelings, and he'd returned the favor with some stinging words of his own. Today, I was nervous about facing him because for some unexplained reason I decided to pick up his hand and kiss it last night. Actually it wasn't completely unexplained. He'd looked so beautiful standing there in the warm light of the porch, and the thought of him taking the time to protect Amy's paintings and then the lasting image of his face when I'd glanced at his hand in the tunnel, all of it overwhelmed me suddenly and I realized how much I wanted him to kiss me. I realized how badly I wanted to kiss him.
In first period we exchanged shy smiles, but we didn't talk. The whole time I wondered what he'd thought about my gesture. Like always, I could feel the heat of his gaze on the side of my face while Ms. Miller lectured. Like always, I pretended not to notice. (32.1-2)
Seriously, can we get some smelling salts? We feel a swooning fit coming on.
I thought back about standing in his arms and how right it had felt. I'd fallen hard for Amy's hero. "You know, I came to town with every intention of hating you, Jake West…"
The palm of his unwrapped hand pressed against my cheek. The warmth of it felt soothing, and I closed my eyes. My lips parted as his mouth covered mine with a soft deep kiss. It had been an emotional few days, and the feel of his lips on mine brought tears to my eyes. He gazed down at me with worry in his dark blues eyes. "Dani, I'm sorry—"
I took his hand from my cheek and kissed his palm. "Don't be. I needed that kiss." I reached up and pushed his long hair behind his ear. Amy knew extraordinary when she saw it. (32.52-54)
Finally these two crazy kids let each other know how they feel. Dani's tried to stay away, and Jake's kept his distance, too, but these two are like little magnets and they can't help but be drawn to each other.
My phone vibrated on the counter, and I picked it up. It was Jake. "How's it going?" he asked. It was just three simple, non-committal, non-romantic words, yet the sound of his deep voice made my knees weak.
"Everything is fine." I actually had to keep the tremble out of my voice. I'd never had this reaction to any guy, but after he'd kissed me in the hallway and again in the jeep when his lips had drifted over the scars on my face, I realized I'd lost my heart to the guy. (34.11-12)
Just like Amy, Dani doesn't adore Jake for his good looks alone; he's also a super nice guy. He protects her. He calls to check on her. The caring in his voice is what really lets Dani know this guy is something special. Serious swoons.
Dermott and I had gotten along well in my first two years. But after Amy's suicide, he'd made it clear that I was to blame for her out of control dieting and downward spiral. He'd decided it was necessary to hire slick, preachy speakers to come and talk to the whole student body about saying hurtful things to each other. We'd had three assemblies last year alone. (5.56)
Amy's death is really the thing that makes the scales fall from Jake's eyes. He's always been worshipped by everyone (even his teachers) and now people just don't see him the same way. We don't blame him for wanting out of this town.
I turned back to the mirror. I was going to clean up my look. Not because the principal had told me to but because fitting in for a change didn't sound too bad. It was a dorky little town, and I planned to stay right here tucked safely within Grammie's walls. I wrapped my hair in a towel, threw on a t-shirt and shorts, and went to Amy's room. My room. (8.23)
Dani's always stood out because of her mom's problems, but here in Raynesville, she just wants to get along. No more goofy dress up—it's time to be a little more low-key and just be herself.
"Just so you know, James Riley has already asked me to the Homecoming Dance."
"Good for him," I said and turned to leave.
She scurried on her backless sandals to catch up to me. "Don't you think it will be awkward? After all, I'm sure to be voted queen and you're sure to be voted king. It seems like we should be going together."
I stopped and she slammed into my shoulder. "I will gladly abdicate my throne and give it to James. So don't lose any sleep over it." I left her standing in quad. How the hell was I going to make it through this entire year? (9.87-90)
Jake West is no fan of the status quo these days. We're going to bet that any other year he would have been looking forward to being named Homecoming King, but after Amy's death, this school stuff just doesn't seem to matter anymore.
"He was my first horse. I got him when I was seven. We used to compete in local rodeos together. Even won some. Now he spends his days out in this field munching grass."
"It's a nice life," I said, "for a horse, I mean." I shrugged. "I guess for a seven-year-old boy too. I mean what kid doesn't want his own horse." (14.8, 10)
Dani's right; Jake has had a pretty charmed life. Not only is he handsome and adored by everyone, but the kid grew up on a freaking horse farm—he has his own pony for goodness sake. Of course things are pretty different now, though. Jake's horse has grown up and so has he.
Jane Austen must have died of a broken heart when she realized romantic heroes like those in her stories do not exist in real life. And now, I know that too. You open up their shiny, beautiful packaging and all you find is a black heart. He "prefers a little less girl." Well, I've got news for you, Jake West. I prefer a lot more man.
There it was. I read it over and over, no self-pity or heartbreak, only a girl who'd realized she was too damn good for him. They were not the words of a girl who was ready to drive off a cliff. She was a girl ready to show Jake West what he'd missed out on. (18.11-12)
This is Amy's big realization. She's spent so much time obsessing over Jake but now she's finally realized that he's not the guy for her. It's time to close the books and start acting a little more grown up when it comes to love.
"We played the Game a month before Amy's death. It was the first time she'd been on the bus. She played and Blister was her partner, but he wasn't able to find her. I'd been the emcee, so I knew exactly where she was. I ran to get her, but the chair was empty. She was sitting nearby, untied, and crying. When I approached her, she ran up the road to her car and took off. We all convinced ourselves that she'd just freaked out being alone in the dark. But we never figured out how she'd untied herself, and she never spoke to any of us after that. The Game lost its sheen after that incident. Then she died and none of us played again." (22.13)
Death will ruin anyone's fun time, and it's not just Jake that's affected by Amy's death. The kids she hung out with that night knew something weird went down during the Game and so they decided to stop playing it. Their resolve doesn't last too long, but still, they tried.
Blister rubbed his chin and grinned. "Are you ready? The first day of our last year." His eyes lifted as he considered it. "Has a nice ring to it."
I plowed my spoon into my cereal. "The last day of our last year sounds a helluva lot better." (22.3-4)
Sure, school can be rough, but this is a pretty big turn of events for Jake. He was the king of Raynesville High and now he can't wait to get out of town. Ugh.
"Even with a popularity status that bordered on legendary, he kept his head and his cool. Everyone adored him. Then when rumor got around that he'd said something cruel about Amy's weight, and she'd started crash dieting, some of the shine came off his armor. He really beat himself up about it. Not because people didn't think as highly of him, but because he couldn't stand that he had caused her pain. Then when she died and the town decided it was because of him, his whole life took a nose dive. His grades crashed, he had no interest in swimming, there was even a point where he started soaking his brain with alcohol. The town had convinced him that he'd caused Amy to kill herself. Never mind that no one in town had given her the time of day before that, but they needed someone to blame. And it all fell on Jake's shoulders. Dermott was the worst. Jake had considered him a friend, but Dermott made him feel like crap about the whole thing. Slowly, the hurt he was feeling faded. He started coming around again. Then you arrived. It was like the whole guilt trip began again." (28.27)
This is Jake in a nutshell. Everything was rainbows and lollipops for him until Amy died. But after, not only does the town see him differently, Jake sees himself differently. He's no longer the perfect and popular stud he always thought he was.
Mom's face dropped. "Do you think I can only hang out with losers?"
"Face it, Mom, up until now . . ."
She whipped around, walked to the kitchen, and grabbed a soda out of the fridge. "I've changed."
"I can see that. If you're happy then I'm happy, Mom." (30.69-72)
Kids aren't the only ones who need to grow up sometimes. Dani's mom has made some pretty awful choices, but living in Raynesville gives her a chance to start over. Can you come of age when you're already in your thirties?
"What about your grandma?"
"My mom was always fighting with her. She actually preferred me to go to the foster home because she was afraid Grammie would never send me back. She probably wouldn't have."
"Wouldn't you have rather gone to her though?"
"Part of me would have preferred it, but my mom still needed me. I was the grown-up."
"That would be tough."
She shrugged. "Life is never dull with my mom. But lately I think she's trying to grow up and I'm sad." She laughed. "I don't know if I'm ready for it." (31.61-66)
Poor Dani never did get to experience being a kid; she's been the one in charge from the beginning. Her mom has been so messed up over the years that Dani's been the one looking out for her instead of the other way around. Now that her mom is changing things up, Dani can, too.