By: Amy Murray

Colin was pronounced dead that evening, and a small memorial service was held four days later. I hated that I wasn’t able to tell him that, finally, I understood why he did the things he did, and to this day, nearly three months later, when I thought of him, regret rose inside me with such ferocity that I wished I could claw my skin off just to relieve the pressure.

The FBI cleaned everything up. They’d taken over the police investigation, and they’d given me a cover story to explain the events at my father’s house. It was a stupid story, but whatever I thought of it, it worked. Gracie believed the events of the robbery in progress that Colin, James, and I conveniently walked in on, but every time I had to tell the story, another layer of ice wrapped around my heart. Colin deserved better. James deserved better. The real sacrifices they made deserved to be known.

But it wasn’t my decision. Agent Alistair, Colin’s boss, reminded me over and over and over again how important it was that no one—“and, I repeat, no one”—know what really happened. The truth was more dangerous than fiction. But even knowing that, there were a thousand times I almost told Gracie the truth.

Yesterday marked my last final exam, which meant the semester was officially over. I couldn’t believe it. I thought for sure I’d have to repeat my classes, but my professors were willing to work with me and provided extensions where they could. They didn’t ease up. I’d still had to come in and make-up every test. I’d still had to turn in every paper. I’d still had to study like hell for exams. But in the end, I got it done.

Footsteps shuffling in the sand caught my attention. I opened my eyes and squinted into the sun. The person approaching was a silhouette in the bright light, but I knew from the slow, easy gait who was coming.

“Hey,” James said. He stood over me. His body was dripping wet and his eyes, as dark as ever, were narrowed with solemnity.

“Hi.” I patted the sand next to me. “Join me?”

He sat and leaned against his palms, nodding briefly at the surf in front of us. “Gracie and Xander seem happy.”

I looked out to the water and saw the way Gracie was looking at her friend. “It’s only a matter of time before they get together.”

It was then that Xander leaned forward and kissed Gracie without warning. “I guess that moment is now,” James said. I turned away and rolled to my side to better face him.

I didn’t say anything for a while, and neither did he. “A moving truck came.” I couldn’t finish my sentence.

James gave a short nod of his head. “I heard Gracie telling Xander.”

This morning, I’d heard noises outside the apartment. I looked through the peephole and my eyes nearly bulged out of my head. Colin’s apartment door was propped open. I’d flung myself outside only to be greeted by a crew of men packing and hauling boxes. Over the last few weeks, I’d often wondered what would become of his things. This morning I found out, and it was like he’d died all over again.

“Sometimes, it feels like I can’t breathe. Like no matter how big a gulp of air I take, it’s never enough. This morning was like that. I mean, they were just throwing things in boxes without care. Without respect.”

James was quiet. He was wearing a short-sleeved white T-shirt—the first I’d ever seen him in—which showed his scars unapologetically. He was tracing one of them with his finger in a way that made me think it was unconscious, and I smiled.

“Do you miss him?” He dropped his head and turned to look at me from under his lashes. “I’m sorry. That was a stupid question.”

“No, it’s not.” Bands of grief wound their way around my ribs so that every time I took a breath, I was reminded of how difficult it actually was. “I thought I’d come to terms with it. You know?” I fell silent and dug my fingers into the loose sand. “But seeing them clear out his apartment, to know it would be available for someone else to rent—I guess I’d always thought he’d eventually come home. As crazy as that sounds.”

James was slowly nodding, but he didn’t interrupt.

“I know he’s gone. I know it, it’s just that a part of me—irrational as it may be—doesn’t really believe it.”