- Pages: 320 Pages
- Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
- Imprint: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
- ISBN: 9780593532072
An Excerpt From
The Last Girls Standing
It had taken sixteen sutures to close the wound on the underside of Sloan’s forearm.
Sixteen threads, woven in and out of her skin by careful hands wrapped in latex, while whispered words had promised, “It’s okay. You’re safe now.” As if anyone could really know that.
Sloan remembered the way the pain had dulled down to a useless ache as the doctors worked, a pressure and tug that she knew should hurt, would hurt, had hurt before everything faded to a blur of sirens and lights and hospital antiseptic.
Sixteen stitches holding her together when she could not do so herself.
“Sloan,” a voice said, sounding far away and underwater. Sloan ignored it, instead staring down at the puckered pink line running down her arm. She traced the scar with her finger, paying special attention to where it bit into the peculiar patch of raised skin above her wrist. Her mother called it a birthmark, but Sloan had never seen a birthmark like that before.
Not that either of them really knew. When the Thomas family adopted her at the age of four, the mark, whatever it was, was already there. Her social workers were no help, and her biological parents were long-gone—-a single Polaroid picture and an urgent, whispered “remember who you are” were all they left in their wake. There would be no asking and no answers for anyone.
“Sloan,” the voice said again.
This time Sloan snapped her attention to the woman sitting across from her. “Beth,” she said, matching her therapist’s tone. If you could really call her that. Beth was some new-age-hypnotherapist-slash-psychic her mother had dug up when Sloan refused to talk to the doctors the hospital social worker had sent them to. She wasn’t even sure if Beth was accredited. She wasn’t even sure if hypnotists could be accredited.
“Where were you just now?” Beth asked, trying very hard to keep her face neutral. Beth was always trying to keep her face neutral, and it rarely worked. Sloan had never met a therapist with so many tells, and she had met a lot of them in those first few weeks after the “incident.”
Sloan flashed her patented smart-ass smile. “Here, in this chair, wondering how much more of this beautiful day I have to spend stuck inside your office.”
Beth frowned. “Is that all?”
“Does there always need to be more?”
Beth leaned back in her chair. “It would be helpful to your recovery if there was, at least occasionally, more.”
Her recovery. That was hilarious. What recovery? It felt more like a countdown from where she sat. They had been waiting and watching her for a while now. Waiting for her to snap. To break down. To tell anyone other than that first police officer what she remembered. What it was like. What she saw. To put the few memories of that night she could manage to scrape up on display for them to dissect like a science experiment.
Her parents, Beth, and all the therapists and gurus and life coaches before her all claimed to want to “help” her process what she’d been through. They wanted to understand. But nobody could, not unless they’d been there too. Sloan glanced out the window to where Cherry’s truck sat glinting in the September sun. As if she could sense Sloan looking, Cherry opened the door and slid out, her long brown hair flipping up in the breeze.
Sloan drank in the sight of the other girl, her entire body relaxing as the person she loved most leaned against the truck with crossed arms. Cherry was safety, warmth. She didn’t pry because she didn’t have to. She was there when it happened, when everyone died except for the two of them: the last girls standing.
Sloan’s loss was her loss. Sloan’s wounds were her wounds. They didn’t need therapists or police or parents wandering around inside their heads—-they had each other for that.
“You need to talk about what happened. Let me help you.”
Sloan sighed. It wasn’t that she didn’t like Beth—-she did. Or that she didn’t think Beth meant well—-she did. Sloan just didn’t see the point. “Help with what?” she asked softly.
“Your mother says your nightmares are getting worse. We could start there—-do a longer session and try to reprocess whichever memories are affecting you most. We might be able to take some of the bite out of them. Many of my clients have had a lot of luck with this approach in the past, but you have to work with me. I can’t do it for you.”
“I’ll think about it,” Sloan said, and then they lapsed back into silence.
She was relieved when Beth’s phone alarm chimed, signaling the end of the visit. The truth was that Sloan wasn’t sure she wanted to “take the bite out” of her memories. To reprocess them or share them with anyone else. Because what she remembered most from that day wasn’t fear. It wasn’t the sticky scent of warm blood, although that remained thick and cloying even in her dreams. And it wasn’t even the pain of the cut in her skin.
What she remembered most was love.
Cherry pulled open the driver’s side door before Sloan was even down the concrete steps of the Smith Medical Building. It was home to an urgent care, a massage therapist, four empty suites, and, of course, Beth McGuinness, holistic hypnotherapist specializing in traumatic response therapy.
“How was the headshrinker?” Cherry teased as Sloan slid across the long bench seat of her old F‑-150. Sloan didn’t know anything about trucks, and she gathered Cherry didn’t either, given that the passenger’s side door had been stuck shut for as long as Sloan had known her. The truck had originally belonged to Cherry’s dad, and her mom had passed it on to her when he died a few years back. Sloan didn’t know if it was a sentimental thing or a money thing that kept them in that truck. Maybe a little of both.
“Shrinky,” Sloan answered.
“I don’t know why your mom keeps making you go.” Cherry shifted the truck into drive and slowly pulled out of the parking lot.
Sloan threaded her fingers between Cherry’s and let all the tension bleed from her body. “Probably because if I had to write an essay about what I did on my summer vacation, it would say ‘survived a mass murder,’ ” Sloan said, attempting to make air quotes with her free hand. “You know it freaks her out.”
“Then maybe she should see someone and leave us alone for once.”
Sloan liked the way Cherry said “us.” The way she always combined them into one now. Nothing happened to Cherry or to Sloan; it only happened to both of them, as if what happened that day at camp had fused them somehow.
“Oh, she does,” Sloan said, twisting in her seat. “I’m pretty sure me going was actually her therapist’s idea. Or maybe her guru’s. I can’t keep them all straight anymore. You’d think she was the one who had to get sewn back together.”
Cherry made a little tsking sound. “Sounds like a conspiracy to me.”
“Yeah, a real conspiracy: protecting my mental health.”
“You know I’m always here for all your protection needs.” She puffed out her chest, and Sloan smiled back at her.
“Yeah, I noticed that with the whole hiding-me‑from-masked-men-with-machetes thing.”
“Oh yeah, that clued you in? Good,” Cherry said with a laugh.
It didn’t use to be like this.
The lightness, the teasing, it was new. Just since Cherry moved to town with her mother a few days ago. Now it was like Sloan could breathe again. Like there was a reason to want to smile.
It was a fluke they had both ended up at Camp Money Springs—two girls on opposite sides of the state just looking for a fun summer job and a way to earn some cash that didn’t involve fast food or retail. They were both fresh high school graduates, and while Cherry was planning on taking a gap year to “find herself”—-aka use up her friends’ goodwill to couch surf her way across the country—-Sloan was just trying to earn some spending money for her first semester at NYU starting that fall.
They had almost nothing in common. Cherry loved punk and grunge bands from the ’90s; Sloan would die for Olivia Rodrigo and Doja Cat. Cherry was sure that they didn’t need to worry about global warming because nature would heal itself, getting rid of people the way it had gotten rid of dinosaurs. Sloan thought they should all use metal straws anyway, just in case.
They shouldn’t have worked, but from the second they met, painting old boats and then clearing weeds at the archery range to prepare the camp for summer, Sloan knew they were meant to be. And to her delight, so did the other girl.
Fate, Cherry had called it, eating slushies made from -ground--down ice and cheap syrup by the fire. She had tasted like sugar the first time they kissed.
She had tasted like blood the next.
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