While I was beginning cancer treatment and my whole universe was tipped on it’s side, there was one small thing to hang on to.
I published a YA novel called This Is Sarah with Bookfish Books, a small press. Sarah was written pretty quickly in a fit of some of the best writing mornings I ever had while I was taking a break from Palimpsest – the science fiction book that tried to kill me.
Sarah was a palate cleanser for a lot of reasons: It was a small universe I understood. It was emotional. It was honest. And I packed a lot of my personal grief into a suitcase and handed it to Colin, my main character. I watched him walk away with it and I felt changed.
The first question people ask me when they read This Is Sarah is if it’s true.
The answer is No. Not really. I don’t know anyone who was kidnapped. I am not Colin or Claire.
But at the same time, I AM Colin and Claire. Because stories are a lie and truth all rolled up into one.
This is Sarah is a mediation on loss and grief. It’s as honest as I have ever been. And for now until the end of the month you can get it for less than a dollar on Amazon.
Here’s the scene where Colin thinks back on the last night he was with Sarah, and the realization she was gone.
The last time I saw her, she stood in her driveway, looking up at me as I leaned out my bedroom window.
“Hey!” I yelled down to her.
“Hey, yourself,” Sarah said with a smile.
“Have fun,” I told her.
“Okay.” She opened her car door. “Get that studying done.”
“It sucks,” I said. “Will you call me later?”
“Of course.” She waved. “Later Gator.”
Later Gator. She always said stupid, cheesy shit like that. I miss hearing that shit so much.
After that, she got into the car and drove away. I never saw her again. That simple little exchange was the last conversation I would ever have with Sarah Evans.
It’s unbelievable. What a nothing conversation—filled with just the regular sort of stuff people say to each other all the time, automatic stuff. And it was the last time I saw her smile, the last time I heard her voice.
I didn’t even tell her I loved her. How could I not say I loved her? We said it all the time. We said it in the hall between classes when the bell rang; we said it at the end of every phone call and text. Yet, at that final fucking moment, all I said was bye.
I hate myself for that. My God, if I only knew then…
This is the thing ― her voicemail became a tether, my anchor to this world. The second I heard her voice it felt like time froze for just a moment and then rolled back on itself, like a sunset, and Sarah was just fine. She wanted to hear what I had to say. She waited for me somewhere behind the next door. When I found that door and I opened it, this whole, awful nightmare would end.
But that wasn’t the important part. Colin’s sad little story didn’t matter. What mattered―what mattered to the police―happened next.
“Hi, this is Sarah. You know what to do!”
“Hey, baby, it’s me.” I called her maybe an hour after she left. I got a text about another party, one I actually wanted to go to after the track meet. “Jamie said the party is a definite on Saturday, but if you aren’t going, then screw it. Anyway, call me later.”
I went back to my biology work. As I told the police, no, I never left the house. No, my parents weren’t home that night because it was my uncle and aunt’s wedding anniversary. No, I don’t have anyone else to verify my whereabouts.
That night, my phone rang at nine-thirty. It was Jenna.
“So, I’m totally blaming you, Col,” she said when I picked up.
“Blaming me for what?”
“For screwing up my evening. You know I’m not going to go to this party alone. I’m not that much of a loser. Tell your girlfriend she could have at least let me know she planned on ditching me. And remember, she was my friend before she became your girlfriend. You can’t hog her all time.” Jenna laughed.
“I’m not with Sarah. She left her house at like seven or something.”
There was a beat, and in it, I could hear Jenna’s confusion. Did my heart start ramming in my chest yet? No. Not yet. I was still just curious. Where was Sarah? It was still just a harmless question. Not the scream it would become.
“What are you talking about?” Jenna said.
“Exactly what I said. Did you call her?”
“Yeah, like ten times. No one answered.”
“What do you mean no one answered? Where is Sarah?”
There it was. The fear drying my mouth. Bam. Bam. Bam. My heart hit my ribs so hard I thought it might come right out of me. The panic locked my fingers, and I nearly dropped the phone.
“I called her, Colin. No one answered.”
“Where is Sarah, Jenna?”
Those words. Where was Sarah? That question. God, that night was the first time I started asking that question.
I hung up with Jenna and called Sarah. It just rang. I hung up and dialed again. It rang and rang and rang until I thought I was going to tear every last hair from my head.
I hung up. I called again. As it rang, I looked out the window, down to the Evans’ empty driveway and then up to Sarah’s dark room.
Sarah, pick up your phone. Pick up your phone. Pick up your phone. Why aren’t you picking up your phone?
I hung up. I did that fifteen more times. I never got her voicemail.
And if it wasn’t clear, thank you thank you thank you for reading.
You helped heal my heart.
Peace, Love and Starbursts,