Chapter 1 - The Crash

Death is a mystery that consumes you and never lets go. I found this out the hard way on Friday, March 26th, when my boyfriend, in a blinding rainstorm, met up with a tree on the side of the road, crumpling his 1964 red Mustang convertible like paper in a fist. I was there and I survived. He did not.

After the crash, I learned that true darkness exists in the world. I was no longer a carefree kid.

“Same place, London?” I coyly asked only hours before the accident. I sat in the passenger seat of that convertible—a generous hand-me-down birthday gift from London’s dad—as we headed to our destination.

“Of course! Where else but the cemetery? Where else is there to go after school?” he replied, a smile etched across his face, his voice playful and light.

I didn’t say a word, but instead, gave him a smile of my own, acknowledging I knew what he meant. There wasn’t much to do in Luna, Oregon, the small but progressive town where we lived. I’m not sure how progressive it could have been when the hottest place to go was the local cemetery. I also don’t know why or how it began, but it had become a tradition for most high students to meet there after school.

“Are you ready to have fun?” London shouted after he pulled his car into a parking spot, jolted it into park, and raised the roof back up.

“Definitely,” I said.

London and I had been looking forward to this day since Monday morning; the past week at school had been hectic. I had spent late nights studying for finals and was glad to have a reprieve from school for a while. I was determined to enjoy this bright, beautiful, sunny afternoon and all of next week, too, because it was spring break. I figured nothing would stop me.

I had an attractive boyfriend and a lot of other good things going on in my life. London had dark, auburn hair and his eyes were a translucent green, which brought to mind clear jewels. I got lost in those eyes. His skin was fair, smooth, and flawless. He was one of the lucky ones who never had a spot of acne to deal with. And to top it off, he was a really nice guy.

London and I headed toward the grassy hill of Luna Cemetery which was littered with hundreds, if not thousands of tombstones, and I realized that I’d never found this place creepy—ever. I thought of the cemetery as more of a place of possibilities, maybe an escape from the quiet, boring town. We could depart from our mundane lives and pretend to be surrounded by something more exciting. I think that was why most of us went there.

When London and I started our walk up the small cemetery hill—me carrying a blue blanket to sit on and London trailing close behind—I caught a glimpse of my best friend Lucca and London’s best friend Cecil, chatting about who knows what. All I could see were their lips moving while I continued to walk onward.

“Hey Lucca,” I greeted once I made it up the hill.

“Hi,” Lucca replied with a welcoming smile. She tossed a thick sheet of gorgeous hair over her shoulder. Lucca’s hair was a straight, brown waterfall that dangled just a few inches below her shoulders, and she wore swept bangs covering her forehead. That head of hair was like something from a shampoo commercial: flowing, glossy, and absolutely to die for.

When I turned to look at Cecil, he was already charging London, zooming past me. I rolled my eyes—the boys still acted like kids. Then I turned to face Lucca and fluffed out the blue blanket I was carrying so I could sit down. I was glad I found a dry spot since it had been raining the past few days.

“God, I’m so happy this week is over,” Lucca said the second my body hit the ground.

“Me too,” I agreed.

Lucca had moved to Luna from New Jersey four years before to start her freshmen year at Luna High. It was right after her parents’ divorce, and her mom had wanted a new start. According to Lucca, there was no real reason for their move. It was just a random decision made by her mom alone.

Lucca’s Italian beauty was arresting. Over the past four years, I had seen more than enough boys hit on her—some she dated and others she just flat out ignored—but I really couldn’t blame the boys for trying. Lucca and I were the same age, seventeen, but I always thought she looked younger than me. I didn’t know if it was because she was shorter, or if it was because she had big brown eyes that made her seem sweet and innocent like a little girl.

I remembered the first time I saw Lucca. It was on the first day of school during lunch hour. She was sitting in the cafeteria, holding high a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in one hand and a copy of Catcher in the Rye in the other. She later told me it was her sixth time reading the book that day. Lucca’s goal in life was to become a writer, so it only made sense that she read so much.

Lucca drew me in from the first moment I met her. Her subtle confidence and flirty personal style instantly caught my eye, and I just knew we would be good friends. So I walked over to her table and introduced myself—and the rest was history. We were best friends from then on.

“Take this!” London yelled as he put Cecil in a headlock.
London’s dramatic tackle into Cecil startled me out of my memories about Lucca.
“You’re not going to win that easily,” Cecil shouted back as he pried London’s arms from around his neck.

London’s tackle had begun a lame wrestling match between the two of them. Lucca and I ignored the boys—much like we always did—and instead spoke about how much we were going to miss Luna once we graduated and left town. Yeah, it was a boring town, but we’d managed to make the best of it.

“Sorry, Amber,” Cecil quickly apologized before ramming back into London, and interrupting my conversation with Lucca.
I’d known Cecil since childhood, and he’d always been my friend. He was a good-looking guy, and before I started dating London, there were a few times when I thought of asking him out. But nothing ever became of it.

Cecil had dirty blonde hair that he constantly kept gelled and light blue eyes that reminded me a lot of the clear water surrounding a tropical island. Ever since I had known Cecil, all he ever dreamed about was playing professional basket ball. His body was tall and slim, much like London’s. London was just a few inches taller than Cecil, and probably because I was in love with him, to me he was the better looking one of the two.

As far as personality goes, Cecil was a natural extrovert and very charismatic. He always ended up the life of the party, and everyone seemed to gravitate toward him—including me.


“Would the two of you please stop!” I yelled. This time, both London and Cecil bumped into me, and their little wrestling match was getting really annoying.

“Yes Mom,” Cecil joked, and London followed with a smirk.

I rolled my eyes.

Apparently, London and Cecil found his “Mom” comment and my reaction so funny that they went into a hysterical laughing fit. Lucca and I initially tried to ignore them, but we eventually laughed, too. Once they got started, Cecil went into his “honking” style of laughter, and London was gasping for breath. Pretty soon the four of us were rolling on the cemetery lawn, probably looking like crazies to the other kids who were nearby.

When the laughter finally faded, I sat back up and saw London in front of me, a sexy smile etched across his face. London didn’t have much hesitation about public displays of affection, so he leaned in for a kiss that eased my entire body, which only proved how much I still loved him even after two years of being together.

Before we dated, we had been childhood friends figuring out how to grow up in Luna together. We’d known each other since we were in diapers. He played Barbies with me, and I played Tonka trucks with him.

Looking back, one of the most memorable conversations we had was on his fifteenth birthday. It was about how we got our names.

“Hey Amber, tell me again how you got your name?”


“Because that story always makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside,” London chuckled.

“The first time I found out, I was either six or seven, and my mom and I were at the Luna Elementary playground when I said to her: Why did you name me Amber? The name is stupid! I want a cooler name. She asked me what name I wanted and I told her Butterfly. She laughed for a good long minute, and after finally catching her breath, told me that her favorite time of day was right after the sun was dawning and just before it sets. The light the sun gave during those times was just so magnificent and unbelievable that it always took her breath away. Instantly she knew she wanted to name me something after those colors, so she named me Amber. It was a name she’d always loved anyway. I remember at that time I was too young to understand the beauty behind her explanation. All I remember while she was talking was swinging back and forth on the rickety swing.”

“Go on,” London encouraged.

“Well, last year when I turned sixteen, I asked her that same question for a reason I can’t recall. She told me the exact same thing. Only this time, she added that the sunrise and the sunset can mean a beautiful beginning to a tragic end. It was like the start of a new life.”

London was silent after I finished my story. He had his eyes closed.

“It’s funny and also a little weird that I never asked you how you got your name because I’ve always wondered. Why in the world did your parents name you London?”

London opened his eyes and explained. “My mom and dad celebrated their second anniversary in London, and that is where they…”


“That is where they ‘conceived’ me.”

We laughed at the slightly awkward exchange, even though I was happy I had finally learned the origin of his name.

At that time, I did feel closer to London than I’d ever felt, but I still vividly recall not being attracted to him. Until two years ago, I never saw London in that way. He was more like my best friend, not boyfriend material.

However, our relationship blossomed and turned romantic on a beautiful spring day. We were wandering through the forest on the outskirts of Luna, looking for different leaves and flowers to press for our art class. I was completely oblivious to his romantic intent that day and chalked up his light trembling and profuse sweating to the hot sun, and not the nervousness he later confessed a few months into our relationship. This was also the same day he confessed that he’d had feelings for me since we were kids.

After spending hours searching the forest for our leaves and flowers and feeling weak from the heat, we found a small clearing under a willow tree where green grass, wild daisies, and dandelions grew around the heavy trunk. The willow tree that London and I still visited was huge with slender branches and elongated flowing leaves. We picked it as a place to rest because of the shade it provided.

As we lay on the thick-bladed grass, I relished in the comfort of the shade and the warm breeze of that day. It was so relaxing that I eventually drifted off to sleep, unaware that my eyes had even closed.

“Pssshhh…Amber? Are you awake?” The voice was London’s.

“I am now,” I muttered, slightly agitated by his need to wake me. “What’s up?”

“Can I take a look at some of the plants you’ve got?”

I pried open one of my eyes and noticed that London’s body was still lightly trembling. So it hadn’t been the heat after all.

“Of course. Take a look at whatever you want,” I replied, lifting the upper half of my body up on my elbows.

“Anything I want?” he said in a suggestive tone that I wasn’t expecting.

I glanced back at him, gave a wry smile, and said, “Yes, anything you want.” I guess I flirted back.

We looked at each for a few seconds before erupting into laughter. It felt crazy to be flirting, or else we were so nervous it made us laugh. We laughed so long and hard that our eyes welled up with tears and my stomach began to cramp. When I finally caught my breath, I threw London my little bag of leaves and flowers. He pulled some out and sorted through others while he tried to act nonchalant about the awkward moment we had just shared.

“Amber…” he whispered my name before cutting himself off.

“What is it?” I asked, anticipating his next words.

He opened his mouth and was on the verge of saying something when he stopped himself again. This time, he looked down at the ground like a wounded puppy. What I experienced next was the moment that changed my feelings for London forever.

I saw his natural innocence and vulnerability, that caused me to see him in a different light, a more desirable light. He transformed before me and was now alluring and attractive, and I was finally able to imagine myself being more than just his friend.

“Are you alright, London?” I asked, with an obvious but unintended shyness in my voice.

London didn’t respond right away, but instead played with the little bag of plants, lightly twirling it around. I could tell he was nervous. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he finally responded. “But I want to ask you something.”

“Okay, go ahead. And quit acting weird,” I scolded, trying to ease the palpable tension.

We both let out little chuckles.

“Have you ever thought of me as more than just a friend?”

I paused for a second, knowing where this was going. “Are you hinting at something?” I asked.

“Amber,” he slowly began before clearing his throat. “Could you ever see me as your boyfriend?”

I hesitated again before answering. “You know what, London? If you would have asked me that question a few minutes ago, I would have said no and that I only saw you as a really good friend. But right now, at this very moment, I can honestly say…yes. I can see you as my boyfriend.”

“Really?” he said. His face had a grin that wiped all the tension and nerves away.

“Yes, really,” I assured him and realized I was beaming, too.

On that day, London didn’t ask what was going through my head or why I had changed my mind. I think he was too excited to even care. Instead, he leaned into my body, closed his eyes, and before we knew it, our lips touched. We had our first kiss. And once our lips parted, any doubts about London disappeared. The kiss felt natural and tender and easy, and all I could think about at that time was wishing we had kissed sooner. What had taken us so long?

“Break it up you two!” Lucca shouted. I guess our kiss had gone on longer than I thought.

I pulled back and coughed a little before covering my lips behind my hand. I felt drenched in embarrassment. “Sorry guys. That was a little out of control,” I confessed.

London grinned.

I blushed crimson.

“Hey kids,” someone interrupted.

When I looked up I saw the cemetery security guard, Abe. He was just saying his cursory “hi.”

“Hi Abe,” I greeted back, glad he had interrupted what could have been a prolonged awkward moment.

“How’s everyone doing?” Abe asked.

“Great!” We all chorused in unison before spending a few minutes talking to him.

Abe was a gregarious older man in his late forties. He had a brown mustache, dark eyes, and a thin frame. Sometimes, when he greeted us, he would end up sharing random stories about his wife and two kids who were both still in middle school. His stories reminded me of growing up in Luna.

After Abe left, the four of us spent more time talking about everything from prom plans to our future goals. We just wanted to keep it light and relaxing, and that’s exactly what we did.

Eventually the wind got cooler, the sun faded away, and the moon occupied the sky. Night was finally upon us, and it had forced almost everyone to leave. I could see people everywhere packing up their blankets, pillows, and whatever little knickknacks they had brought along as they headed to their cars. From the distance and in the fading light they looked like an army of ants. And it wasn’t long after the packing that I could hear several engines roar to life before every one else sped off the cemetery property, leaving only a few of us behind.

“Are you guys coming?” Cecil asked.

Neither London nor I responded to Cecil right away. Instead, London looked over at me and politely asked, “Amber, you ready to leave?”

I could tell by the look in his eyes that he didn’t want to go.

“Not yet,” I said. “Let’s stay a while longer.”

London smiled, and amid the subtle beams of moonlight shining down from the blackened sky, I couldn’t help but feel warm inside. London’s gorgeous face—his beauty that night captivated me more than I anticipated.

“Amber? Hello?” London was waving his hands in my face, trying to get my attention. I must have lost myself while staring into his eyes again.

Then I blushed, lightly slapped London on the arm, and said, “You’re embarrassing me.”

London let out a small flirty laugh, obviously reveling in my embarrassment.

“I’ll see you guys later,” Cecil told us as he rolled his eyes and began walking down the hill.

Lucca, at this point, had already packed everything up and was down the hill, near her car.

“Cecil!” London shouted. “Would you mind telling Lucca that Amber and I are going to be here for a while? We’re planning on making out…or something.”

I hit London on the arm again, blushing even more than I had before.
The cemetery was now closed, but Abe didn’t mind us staying a little longer. He was used to it and was over in his security shed reading a book, completely ignoring us. And with everyone gone, it felt as if London and I were the only two people left in the world. So we cozied up to one another, trying to make sure we got the most out of our alone time together as we pondered our future.

London and I often made up these little blueprints, or what we liked to call “our escape route,” so that eventually we would end up leaving Luna together.

“So, every day gets us closer to graduation, and you know what that means?” I said.

“Our plan to get out of here will be happening soon,” London answered. “We’ll graduate and then be off to Portland State University together, away from Luna.”

“Yeah. And you’ll be on your way to being an architect and I’ll be in the Theater Arts program,” I said under the glowing stars of the night, once again daydreaming about becoming a huge actress in Hollywood and starring in big, romantic motion pictures.

“You wish you were Kate Winslet in Titanic, don’t you?”

I giggled. “Yes. That would be awesome! That’s my favorite movie.”

“Yeah, I know. One day, you’ll end up with the Best Actress Award at the Academy’s. You’re that good, Amber.”

“I don’t know about that,” I meekly replied.

“I do.” London smiled and then slowly leaned into me, put his lips next to my ear, and whispered, “Follow your heart and you can’t go wrong.”

I lightly exhaled. His sweet breath sent shivers pulsating through my body as I took in his succulent lips which were moist like honeydew.

“Your beauty is intoxicating,” he gently told me after our lips parted, brushing away the few strands of hair covering my face. “I love your strawberry blonde hair…and your hazel eyes…and your soft lips…and your sweet, little laugh…” He stopped there. I think he realized how embarrassed I got from all the compliments he was always throwing my way.

I let out a shy smile to show my appreciation.

London smiled back. “I promise to love you forever,” he said, repeating our commitment to each other.


“Forever and ever,” he sweetly confirmed before we faded into another passionate kiss.

But I pulled back when I felt something wet hit the top of my head.

“London, did you feel that?”

“Feel what?” He looked confused.


“No…I don’t feel anything…” he said before stopping himself mid-sentence.

Then, within just a few seconds, a heavy gust of wind blew through the cemetery, forcing both London and I to gasp as we took in the unexpected cool air. A few seconds later, pellets of painful raindrops followed. It was like a barrage of bullets, and the sky was now so black we couldn’t see three feet in front of us. London quickly jumped up, grabbed my hand, and pulled me up as we both stumbled down the cemetery hill, trying to hold on to any visible tombstones to keep from sliding on the slick grass. When we passed Abe, who was securely safe in his little shed, we waved good night and continued our clumsy descent.

At London’s car, he was a complete gentleman, opening my car door first and letting me in before heading over to the driver’s side so he could finally shield himself from the harsh storm. We sat in the car seats, heavily breathing and unable to stop laughing at the absurdity of the situation. We were soaking wet and freezing. What was supposed to be a romantic night under the stars had turned out to be a hilarious and messy one.

“You alright?” London asked while still trying to catch his breath.

“Yeah, I’m fine. You?”

“I’m cool,” he simply said, a slight tremble in his voice as he started up the car engine.

“Hey London, is it just me or is the rain really coming down hard?”

“Yeah. It’s really pouring now. I can barely see anything,” he confirmed.

The next thing I knew, the windshield wipers were in full motion, scraping back and forth, trying to give us a clear view of what was ahead. It didn’t work. The rain was so heavy that the windshield wipers were useless.

“Maybe we should sit here and wait until the rain dies down a little?” I suggested before nervously strapping on my seatbelt.

“No, I think I can make it. Once we’re on the main road, we’ll be fine,” London replied unconvincingly. “Besides, we don’t know how long it will last. It might get worse.”

“But how are you going to see where you’re going?”

“Well, I can see the road a little,” London slowly answered as he put the car in motion.

“This is very scary,” I told him. My stomach was in knots, and my heart was racing as we drove down the road.

At first, London was seemingly aware of the danger of driving in such an intense storm. I felt like I was under the ocean. The car was even lightly rocking back and forth by the powerful wind, which howled like a thousand wolves in unison as small branches flew right in front of us like birds. Then, for some strange reason, London started speeding up. Maybe he was trying to fight against the wind. I wasn’t sure.

“Slow down! We can’t even see where we’re going!” I shouted out.

“Amber, calm down!” he shouted back. “You’re making me nervous.”

“Well…you’re making me nervous by driving too fast.”

“I’m not driving too fast. It just seems like it because of the storm.”

“No London, you are. Slow down!”


Then just like that—blackness…

The last thing I remembered was London screaming my name against the heavy sound of the rain on the car. I vaguely recalled waking up, my body consumed with pain as blood was dripping down my face. I wasn’t sure how far we were from the cemetery or where we were at all. All I knew was that my head hurt and that I could barely think. When I turned to look at London, his body was lying against the driv-er side door, limp and motionless, soaked in blood. At first, I thought he had passed out from the impact, but the longer I stared at him, the more I realized that he wasn’t unconscious at all—London was dead.

I was very weak and pain exploded inside me, like a boiling pot that had overflowed, unable to stop. But these same emotions forced me to reach over and pull London close to me before I put my fingers on his neck to try and feel a pulse—but I got nothing.

“London…you’re really dead…” I whispered.

Then everything went black again.

I later found out that Abe was the one who called for help. He saw London’s car as he drove home that night. During the storm, London and I had crashed into a tree less than a mile from the cemetery. By some lucky chance, I was alive and I didn’t know why. My parents later told me it was because I had my seatbelt on. I remembered the deafening sound of sirens and knowing that, no matter how loud the sirens got, nothing could ever drown out the sobbing that was going on inside me.

After that, the only thing I remembered was waking up in a hospital room with a little bouquet of flowers next to my bed, still groggy and exhausted before falling back asleep again.

The next time I woke up, my parents were in my hospital room, smiling at me. I was so happy they were there. Their familiar faces comforted me.

As I glanced over at Mom, I was reminded why everybody told me I looked so much like her. Mom was also slender with blonde hair and bright blue eyes. She just wasn’t very tall.

Dad, on the other hand, stood at six foot two. That’s who everybody says I got my height from. He had dark brown hair and bright blue eyes, too. And my favorite thing about him was his sense of humor. He always knew how to make me laugh.

“Hey,” I weakly muttered, still groggy.

“How are you feeling, honey?” Mom asked as she stroked strands of hair away from my face, instantly reminding me of London’s soft touch.

“I’m okay,” I quietly answered. And before any more words even left my mouth, tears formed in my eyes. “London’s dead, isn’t he?”

Dad was standing behind Mom as I looked over at him. I could tell he was about to say something, but suddenly stopped himself as Mom’s eyes started to well up, too. She looked somber as she lightly nodded, confirming London’s death.

My body reacted with a type of grief I’ve never felt before. It was like a supernatural tidal wave that came and swept over me, and all I could do was drown in it with no hope of coming up for air. My body shook while my breaths got shorter by the second, and my vision finally blurred to the point of losing all sight.

I felt my parent’s arms tightly wrapped around me, and it was exactly the kind of comfort I needed. Just to feel some one holding me was what kept me from falling apart.

I don’t know how long it took, but eventually, my tears washed away and I was finally able to gain some composure. I didn’t feel the need to probe into London’s death, because the more I focused on his passing away, the sadder I became. I knew I wasn’t ready to deal with it yet, and figured I could use denial as my temporary comfort.

I wasn’t sure what would happen after that day. The only thing I could do was hold my breath and wait to see what followed.