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A high school girl's dream becomes her nightmare as first jealous, then emotionally unstable classmates turn her life into a living hell.
In the fiercely competitive world of high school, many students are satisfied with simply escaping the attention of would-be bullies and quietly making it through each day. That is not always possible for someone who wishes to discover more of what life has to offer.
Carmen, bored with her easy studies and under the encouragement of the school counselor, decides to try and make sense of a system which has continually rejected her since she entered it. Now she is blossoming into a young lady who is not quite ready for her own reactions to newly-discovered feelings and desires.
Dodging the arrows of jealousy from a tormentor, discovering the nature of conflicted love from an older boy, and gently rejecting the advances of another girl take their toll on the patience and faith of a young woman who just wants a fair shot at life. Unfortunately, her problems prove very persistent.
Now her boyfriend is descending into madness, and there is more than one person who would rather see her die than live. A high-speed chase in the woods and rescue that is just too late to prevent a terrible tragedy leave Carmen wondering if death really is worse.
He turned to look at her. It was awkward moving his whole upper body, and he had a grimace of expected pain on his face. The collar holding his head stationary had been covered by a black scarf for the service. Carmen had made her way up from the back, and could now see into the hole.
The hole looked very big. The box looked very small. She wondered if anyone could ever loom large enough in the world to fill more than the average burial space. Certainly her memories of her mother far outweighed the paltry bones she had become. Carmen liked to think that her mother was cradled in the earth’s protective womb, but sometimes in the night she woke to the surety that wolves had scattered the bones far and wide.
A man and woman, who Carmen assumed were Josh’s parents, were staring at her when she turned back. The woman held a handkerchief below her eyes. “Who are you?” she asked.
“I’m--I’m Carmen,” the girl answered.
The man now had a sour look on his face. “Oh, Josh talked about you. For a week and a half. Even in his dreams. They weren’t nice dreams.”
Carmen froze in the act of reaching for Josh’s crutches, which were lying next to him in the grass.
“Is that when he was recovering from appendicitis?” she asked before standing up.
“Appendicitis; is that what he told you?” The woman’s words fell on Carmen. “I don’t know who you are, and I wish my son didn’t either. You’ve caused us all a lot of grief. You put his graduation in danger, and he’s still going through counseling because of you. I don’t wonder but maybe you were the cause of Brian’s death, too. Why don’t you just crawl back into whatever nightmare you came from, and leave my family alone?”
“Here, Josh, take ‘em.” Carmen’s voice was a whisper she forced from between suddenly numb lips as she held the crutches out to him. Then she was running, awkward in heels on the uneven earth, stumbling, running blindly. When she reached the place where the wall curved into the rear boundary of the cemetery, she threw herself down gracelessly and cried.
“How come you never learned to just shut your mouths?” Josh was fitting the crutches under his shoulders. It took him several tries. “Sometimes I hate both of you!” Now he was lurching after Carmen, wincing each time the temporary cast banged down.
Father stared after him, shoulders drooping. “Come on, Lo. We’ll wait in the car.” He wrapped an arm around the shoulders of his wife and steered her in the opposite direction. She sobbed noisily now, and didn’t mind the hot tears falling on her hand.
“Carmen.” Josh stood there, swaying on the hateful crutches, trying to comfort the girl, wanting just to see her face. She wouldn’t look up.
“Did that happen, Josh? Am I that bad for you?” It was hard to catch her words.
“You’re good for me. You know you are.”
“You weren’t sick, were you? You lied to me. Why would you do that?” She still had not looked up.
He sighed heavily. “I wasn’t sick, Carmen.”
He took the time and effort now to crouch slowly down and land beside her on the grass. “Ow!” He kicked at the crutches with his wounded leg. “Ow, dammit!”
Now she looked up, a slight twinkle of amusement disappearing fast from her eyes. Her mouth remained twisted down in sorrow.
“What’s going on, Josh? Tell me now; I need to know.”
“I wasn’t sick. It was like my parents said, I freaked out.” It was his turn not to look at her.
“Us, Carmen.” The words came slowly. “I got in over my head.”
“I’m not going to hurt you,” she told him.
“I was here to hurt you!” Now he was angry; he wasn’t sure at which one of them.
She had unconsciously leaned toward him, offering reassurance. Now she recoiled, and the tears trembling in her eyes spilled down her cheeks. “Why?” The word was even more plaintive now.
“Sandy,” he said quietly, “It was Sandy. She doesn’t like you. She thinks you need to be where you were, out of her way.”
“I was never . . . in her way.” Carmen was having trouble finding her mental balance.
Now Josh looked at her. “I know. But she hates you.”
“And you do, too?”
“No, Carmen. I just thought you were . . . unusual, at first.”
“So why did you do it?”
“For Brian. He was in love with Sandy. She told him to have me get rid of you first.”
There was a moment of silence. Carmen’s eyes followed a butterfly, and she wished she was anywhere else.
“What were you going to do?”
“I was going to break your heart.” His whisper was no louder than hers.
“Well, you succeeded. Congratulations.”
“Carmen, that’s not what I want now! You’ve got to believe me! That’s not what I want!”
“I don’t know what you want. I don’t know what I want. But I do want to be gone from here.” She rose from the grass and walked away from Josh.
As she passed the open hole again, she glanced once more at the insignificant box. Lucky, she thought, and walked out of the cemetery.