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.