The Program
was pulling my legs downriveras my body clung to the wood. And then I saw Brady—he was floating, facedown. He wasn’t swimming. I screamed again, pointing toward him as I watched his body slam into a rock, and then another. James’s arms were furiously lapping over and over, but Brady was too far ahead.
    I started to cry, sobs curling my body around the branch. When Brady’s body slammed against another rock, it stayed there long enough for James to reach him. James banged against the boulder, crying out as he did, but he pulled Brady to shore and started giving him CPR.
    He was frantic, pounding on his chest, breathing into his lungs. But I could see from where I was that even if Brady wasn’t full of water, his neck was broken. His head hung oddly to the side; his eyes stared out at nothing.
    My brother—my best friend—was dead.
    Comforting numbness seemed to stretch over me then. James was crying, screaming for help. He stood up, his hand shielding the sun as he looked for me. And I let go of the branch, letting the icy water pull me under.
    I tried to drown, and really, it wouldn’t have been that hard. The current was strong enough to keep me under, and I hoped I would pass out, blocking the images of my dead brother’s last stare. I knew I couldn’t go on. I couldn’t face my parents. My life.
    But then James had his forearm around my neck, pulling me to the bank to lay me on my back. I was choking, vomiting even then. My ears were plugged but I could see James above me, tappingmy cheeks to keep me awake. When I could keep my eyes open, he left, running to his towel where his phone was.
    James saved me. But he couldn’t save Brady—neither of us could. In the end we did just as my brother asked—we took care of one another. Sometimes the survivor’s guilt was more than we could bear, a secret between us that we never let show. But we were all we had left.
    •  •  •
    As I sit in James’s house Monday morning, watching as he slowly pushes his bandaged arm through a shirt I picked out, I think that it’s always been him doing the work. James has been the constant. Now that part of him is broken, finally infected. And just like that day at the river, I want to let go and go under.
    “I brought Pop-Tarts,” I say, brushing his hair aside as he sits and stares out the window.
    “When’s the funeral?” he asks, his voice so low I can barely hear it.
    I swallow hard. After I left James Saturday night, I pushed down every feeling I had, let myself become a machine, doing whatever’s necessary to keep us alive. Together. When I got home, my parents told me that Miller’s mom had called and spoken with them.
    “They’re not having a funeral,” I say. “The Program thinks it might instigate more suicide, so just his mom is allowed to bury him.” Miller’s face, his smile, pops into my head, but I quickly lock it away. There is no time to mourn.
    James presses his lips tight together as his eyes well up. “Itwas my fault,” he says. “Just like Brady. I was too late. I should have never left him behind.”
    I wrap my arms around James. “Miller was sick, James. There was nothing we could do.” He turns in my arms.
    “And Brady? I was there and I couldn’t save him.”
    My heart aches, but I can’t let myself think about Brady today, not when we have to go to school. “I couldn’t either. And what’s done is done. You need to pull yourself together.”
    James reaches up to put his palm on my cheek, and I turn my face into it. “I can’t,” he murmurs.
    I stare into his blue eyes, panicking, but I press my forehead against his. “I will save you this time,” I whisper. “I will save us both.”
    James pulls me into a hug, burying his face in my neck, and I run my fingers down his back, trying to calm him. I’ve never felt strong, not when so many things in this world are out of my control. But now I have to be. Because I’m all we have.

    In the past day have you

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