Last Year's Mistake - Gina Ciocca

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For my family and friends, especially Mom, Dee, Dom, and Sarah, because you believed this would happen even when I didn’t. And for Dad, the original number thirty-three.


Rhode Island

Senior Year

The first day of senior year, he came back. I should have known it wasn’t over. Nothing ever is.

I smoothed my white sundress beneath me as I took my seat beside Ryan, my boyfriend of almost a year, in his Camaro. The air was tinged with last night’s September chill, a reminder that I’d soon be watching summer melt into fall for the second time as a resident of Rhode Island. Sometimes I still wondered if the whole thing was a dream.

The Camaro’s engine idled loudly as I pulled down the visor to check my makeup. Satisfied that lip gloss and mascara hadn’t budged on the way from the house to the car, I snapped the mirror back into place.

Then my insides went cold.

Something was clipped to the visor that I’d never seen in this car before but would have recognized anywhere.

“Where did you get that?”

“This?” Ryan unclipped the half-dollar-size medal, laughing as he held it out to me. “Keep it. You need it more than I do.”

I made no effort to take it from him. “Where did you get it?”

The dimple in Ryan’s left cheek disappeared as his smile faltered. “I found it. What’s your deal?”

My eyes darted from him to the medallion and back again. When I still didn’t touch it, he added, “Oh, come on, babe. It’s a Saint Christopher medal. It’s to protect you while you’re driving. Or, in your case, running squirrels off the road. Lighten up.”

My sister and I were bumming a ride with Ryan on the first day of school because my car was in the shop—the result of an unfortunate incident involving one too many tequila shots and a squirrel. At least, that was the story I’d told him.

I tentatively touched the medal, engraved with an image of Saint Christopher and his staff.

Ryan thought he was teasing by giving me this, laughing it up over an inside joke. But nothing about it was funny. The car suddenly felt too warm, too small, and memories I’d locked away for more than a year poured into my head like water through a broken dam. Images of smiles and touches and kisses that weren’t his.

I stared at the medal in my palm, running my thumb over the uneven surface. “I—I knew someone who had a medal like this.” Not like it. This one was identical to the one in that long-buried past of mine. And now I held it in my hand like sunken treasure churned up from the ocean floor. I rolled the window down a little more, wondering why air couldn’t seem to find its way to my lungs, and stared absently at the wicker rockers on our front porch before adding, “Someone I haven’t seen in a long time.”

“I miss him.” Miranda sighed from the backseat. “He was the best.”

I whipped around. “Be quiet. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Him?” Ryan adjusted the red Clayton High baseball cap sitting sideways over his blond curls.

Wistfulness clouded Miranda’s blue eyes. “Our friend from back home in Connecticut. He’s—”

“Not important.” I twisted around in my seat again. “Do you want to die on your first day of freshman year?”

“Him who?” Ryan pressed.

I didn’t look at him when I answered. “Not that kind of him. A friend. One I don’t speak to anymore.”

Ryan shifted in his seat. “It’s not like it’s the same medal. Those things are mass produced. You look like you saw a ghost.”

If only I’d known how prophetic those words would be.

I’d tossed the medal into my purse, and had almost forgotten about it by the time Ryan and I were kissing at my locker half an hour later.

“I swear, you two should get tracheotomies so you’ll never have to come up for air.” My best friend, Candy, wrinkled her nose as she slammed her locker shut.

“Jealous, Candle Wax?” Ryan retorted. I hated when he called her that. Candy’s last name was Waxman, hence the rather dim-witted nickname.

“In your dreams, Smurf.” Equally dim-witted: Ryan Murphy. Smurf. Ugh.

Candy fiddled with her cell phone, simultaneously