Before You

By: Marni Mann


PLAYLIST





“Nightmare”—Halsey

“Graves”—Echos

“Daddy Lessons”—Beyoncé

“Drinkin’ Too Much”—Sam Hunt

“Seven Devils”—Florence + The Machine

“Let Me Down Slowly”—Alec Benjamin

“Broken”—Lund

“The Half”—Ruben

“Wild Enough”—Elina

“My Blood”—Echos

“6 Inch”—Beyoncé, Featuring The Weeknd





PROLOGUE





PORTLAND, MAINE - SPRING 1989





“DO you think Casey will be at school today?” Brandon asked his girlfriend as he pulled into the third row of the student lot, parking on the end.

As juniors, the three of them had two weeks left before summer break. This time next year, they would be graduating like the seniors had yesterday. Once they received their diplomas, Brandon and his girlfriend would pack a suitcase and move to California, a plan they’d hatched their freshman year when they started dating.

“No,” she replied, staring out the windshield, shaking her head. “I have a feeling we’re never going to see Casey again.”

When Brandon had heard about what had happened to their best friend the night of the party, he had been in his room with his girl, sleeping. Had it been any other morning, Brandon’s mother would have been furious to find him in bed with her. She wasn’t allowed to stay the night. But that morning, Brandon’s mother didn’t yell, nor did she mention it when she shook her son awake. In a quiet, calm voice, she told them everything she had heard about Casey.

The two women immediately started to cry.

Not Brandon. He rose from his bed and paced the small space between his nightstand and closet, trying to process the news. When his mother wasn’t able to answer any of the questions he’d asked, he rushed downstairs to the phone in the kitchen and called Casey’s house.

No one picked up, not even the answering machine.

Brandon then tried calling one of his friends to see if they had heard anything. And that was how he ended up spending his whole day, reaching out to everyone whose number he had, listening to their version of the story.

One thing they all agreed on: no one had heard from Casey since the party.

After nightfall, Brandon and his girl drove to Casey’s house. His other friends had already done the same, but Brandon was hoping their outcome would be different. Except, when they got there, there weren’t any lights on inside, the front door was locked, and no one responded to the doorbell. They went around back, and Brandon threw a rock at Casey’s window. He’d waited several minutes, tossing more rocks, before it was time for them to leave.

“You really think …” Brandon started to reply, his voice drifting off as he considered the possibility of never hanging out with their best friend again. When it all really hit him, he gripped the steering wheel and shouted, “Fuck!”

“It could have happened to any of us … you know that,” she said softly.

They had all been at the party that night. It was held in the same field every year, the Friday before graduation. Everyone went—high schoolers, alumni, friends from surrounding towns. It was tradition. And in all the years, there had never been an incident.

Until now.

Brandon reached across the front seat and squeezed her hand, really feeling the weight of it all. “Thank God it didn’t happen to us.”

Some stories had the power to change lives forever.

This story changed an entire town.





ONE





BILLIE





“WHAT I WOULD HAVE GIVEN to put my lips around that rack of lamb,” Ally said through the speaker of my phone.

I laughed at my best friend’s response to the picture I’d posted this morning. Her appreciation of food had grown over the years because of me. The girl I’d met all those years ago didn’t know jelly came in flavors other than grape.

“It was succulent,” I told her, closing my eyes and taking a deep breath as though the plate were still in front of me. “The whole meal was beyond words.” When I opened my lids again, I put the last packing cube into my suitcase and zipped it shut. “I convinced the chef to give me the recipe for his brussels sprouts. I’m going to make them for our next girls’ night.”

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