PROLOGUE

BEA

Admittedly, it was an overly nostalgic idea. But, so what? If there were ever a time for nostalgia, it was tonight, our last night together at Penn, our last night under the same roof, our last night as a six-point star. Besides, if I didn’t insist on it, none of them would have been willing. Frankly, and this is the part that somersaulted my stomach, none of them would have even considered it, thought of it in the first place. Well, maybe Annie. Annie would have considered it, but she’d never have spoken up because she’d worry that we’d all call her cornball or cheesy or judge her in some way for loving us more than we loved her.
We didn’t. We all loved one another equally.
Or maybe not. I like to think we did. But love is never quite egalitarian.
“Get down here!” I shouted up the two flights from the living room. “Colin! Come up!” I yelled toward the basement.
The throb of the bass from the speakers in Lindy’s room thundered overhead, rattling the old wood banister. I marched upstairs and knocked. She didn’t open the door, but sweet Annie did across the hall.
“I’m getting ready,” she said, though she was already more done-up than I ever was. The scent of her burning vanilla candle wafted toward me. “I need ten more minutes.”
“You look perfect.”
Annie scrunched her nose, then wiped her lipstick off with a balled-up tissue.
“I hate this lipstick.”
“It’s nice,” I say, though the crimson hue was indeed a bit too murder-red.
“You think?” She winces. “I don’t know. It’s new.”
Annie always went heavy on the beauty products—though Catherine had bought a makeup book at the university bookstore and, after practicing on herself, had given Annie lessons. She’d toned it down since freshman year, but the eyeliner was still too thick, the blush still a little too unnaturally vivid. She was pretty enough without it, but telling her as much only embarrassed her, made her lips turn down at the corners, made her hands bat in front of her face as if she were literally shooing the notion away.
Tonight she was wearing a maroon baby-doll dress that she’d splurged on at Urban Outfitters last month. I tried to buy it for her as a half-birthday present, but she shook her head and pulled wrinkly bills from her backpack. Frankly, she seemed a little confused, like she’d never celebrated a half birthday as a kid, like her mom had never surprised her with a cupcake just because she was halfway to a new start. After the cashier rang her up, I realized that, in fact, her mom probably never had.
I stopped celebrating half birthdays when I was eight, so I got it.
That’s one thing that Annie and I had in common, one secret we understood about the other: being orphans. Me, literally, her compared to the other four, with their (mostly) happy homes. She and I were on our own.
Lindy popped her head out of her door, the music blaring. Dave Matthews. 
Where you are is where I want to be. 
“What?” Then, across the hall to Annie: “You look nice.”
Annie flapped her hands like I knew she would.
“Not really,” she said.
“Come downstairs,” I bellowed over Dave Matthews. “Before we go out. I have something.”
“Ugh.”
“Not ugh!”
“Is it something nuts? Like, are you about to make me jump out of an airplane?”
“I am not about to make you jump out of an airplane. But you should. You know. One day. You’ll never forget it.”
“Ugh.” Lindy rolled her eyes.
“I’m just saying.” I wiggled a finger toward her like a schoolmarm who knew more than she did.
“Fine. One second.” Lindy shut her door, and the music dampened.
“Catherine!” I called to the third story. She, Owen, and I lived on the top floor; they were across the hall, had been for two years now. They were the only ones who shared a room, but they were also the only ones who were solidly coupled—or coupled at all. When we rented this place the fall of junior year, it was understood that they came as a unit.
“I’m coming!” she called back, her voice muffled through the walls. Then she scurried out and down the flight of steps to meet me, her chambray tank top billowing above her belted jeans, her Steve Madden sandals flopping down the steps. She looked like an Abercrombie & Fitch model, her hair bouncing in a high ponytail, her cheeks golden in a way that she encouraged Annie’s to be. She’d made the tank top herself, or at least fashioned it out of an old, baggier button-down from freshman year. She’d found a pattern at the crafts store she haunted on the weekends, sliced off the arms, and sewed up the back seams.
“Owen and Colin are out. But should be back any minute,” she said, tucking in the hem of the shirt, disguising the slightly awry stitching. She was still navigating her seamstress skills.
As if on cue—because Owen rarely, if ever, let her down—Colin and Owen, like Batman and Robin, unlocked the front door and strode inside.
“Who’s ready?” Owen shouted. “Because we’re ready!”
“You’re also drunk!” Catherine laughed and scampered past me to the living room. She kissed him for a beat too long (they always kissed for a beat too long), and said: “Hmm, yes, definitely drunk.”
“Lindy! Annie! Come on!” I said, and Lindy’s music finally quieted.
“We did the bar crawl downtown,” Colin said to me. “You should have come.”
“I can cream you in any sort of bar crawl, and you know it.”
Colin purred and curled a palm like a cat.
“Besides,” I said, “it’s our last night. I wanted to spend it all together.”
“Well, now we are!” Colin was as tipsy as Owen. He pulled me closer, braiding his arms around my neck. He always got touchy-feely whenever he drank too much, which wasn’t as often as Owen, but wasn’t so unusual that I couldn’t read the signs. It had been this way since freshman year, after that bottle of Absolut in the student lounge, when I declined his proffered adoration, and we mostly got over it in the years since.
I savored the weight of his body pressed against mine for a moment, and then untangled myself when I heard Lindy’s and Annie’s footsteps clomping down the steps. Annie’s lips were reslathered in murder-red. Annie gazed at Colin quickly before averting her eyes to the floor. I wished she would tell him. Late one night sophomore year when she and I were lying in the grass on the Quad, staring up at the satellites because you couldn’t see the stars against the Philadelphia lights, I told her she should tell him. Jesus, Annie, life is short! You’re only young once. Live like it! Tell him. Or maybe let me tell him for you? But she stuttered and said, “Oh no! Never. Please don’t. I’d rather die.” So I didn’t. And she didn’t. And now she just averted her eyes to the floor.
“OK, now that we’re all here, I have something,” I said.
“I’m not getting a tattoo,” Catherine said. Owen rubbed her bare shoulder as if he couldn’t imagine marring her milky skin.
“It is not a tattoo.” I groaned, even as mine peeked out from the waistband of my jeans. Wings. It felt a little clichéd four years later, but what was I going to do? I’d turned eighteen and had been emancipated from my grandparents and celebrated accordingly.
Tonight I was being a bit of a cliché too, but it was now or never. So I’d planned it all out: gone to the campus bookstore yesterday for supplies (they were running a 50 percent off sale on Penn 1998 hats, and I thus stood weeping in the hat section until a salesperson asked me if I needed to call someone) and rehearsed my pitch to the five of them. I grabbed the bag off the flaking pea-green dining table that Catherine had found at a garage sale and attempted to repaint to a shabby-chic white, but had managed only to dull the once-bright lime color. Sometimes, when you were eating your macaroni and cheese, you found a tiny shard of crusty white paint on the tine of your fork.
“Here,” I said, offering them each a new notepad and shiny gold-inked pen. “Write down your hopes for the next twenty years. Where you think you’ll be in 2018. Where you want to be.”
Lindy rolled her eyes. “Bea, come on.”
“I’m serious! I’m making a time capsule.”
“A time capsule?” Colin pulled out a dining chair and seemed ready to mock me, but I glared at him, and he shut up.
“Yes, a time capsule. You’ll be glad we did it. We’ll open it at, like, our twentieth reunion. Write it down! Or . . . of course, we can just go get tattoos. Your call.”
“We’ll be, like, forty in twenty years,” Owen said. “Jeez.”
“Forty-two, Owen,” Lindy said. “In other words, fucking ancient.”
“Whatever,” I said. “The future. The path that lies ahead.” I flourished my hands like a circus magician.
“I love it!” Catherine grabbed a pad and pen, and Owen followed. They smushed together on the couch by the back window, even though there was room enough for four. (Five if we all piled on, like we did when we watched Friends. Six if Lindy lay across the top of the couch’s back, which she was usually happy to do, flicking us each on the ear whenever the impulse seized her.)
“Fine,” Lindy mumbled, then offered Annie a pad of her own.
“Oh,” Annie said, “I don’t know. I don’t have much to say.”
“Just think of the first thing that comes to mind! Your wildest dreams.” I smiled at her, but I could see the blush rising up her neck. Annie furrowed her brow like she couldn’t imagine her wildest dreams. She chewed on her lip and reluctantly accepted the pad from Lindy.
“Come on, I’ll help,” Lindy said, and she opened the front door, plopping down onto the stoop outside, Annie plopping down one step above her.
The heat from the abnormally hot May air blew in, and I closed my eyes and savored it, welcomed it. The rest of them never considered time, how it moves both so quickly and so slowly that it’s always just beyond your grasp. But I did. I considered it always. I knew. I knew because time had robbed me of the years I deserved with my parents when I was eight, and the ocean off Australia turned black and swallowed them. I knew because time had also granted me life, literal life: if the doctors had caught my leukemia a few months later—at twelve, not eleven and a half—remission would have been just a word they used for someone else, or if my ski had caught an edge just a second later on that chute in the Alps, I’d have been paralyzed from the waist down forever, not just left with two nasty surgeries and a dull ache whenever the skies turn gray.
I also knew because these four years with them, my friends here, had cocooned me from everything else: the grief, the isolation, my cancer. I knew because nothing had gone wrong while I was here, while I was with them, even if I insisted on tempting fate a little too often.
I understood time. I knew its value. That’s what I hoped for myself for the next twenty years: that I had time. Just . . . time. But I was wiser in this way than they were: I lived cavalierly, recklessly even. I swam with sharks, bungee-jumped off too-high cliffs, skydived a chance too many. But I knew that none of us are made any promises, none of us are ordained to be here forever, or even for as long as we want to believe. This is what nearly being robbed of time does to you: it leaves you glancing over both shoulders, wondering when it will catch up to you, wondering when its pace will quicken so you can no longer outrun it. 
So, for now, for tonight, I wanted to preserve it. Forever. Or at least for twenty years. Besides, twenty years from now felt like forever.
It was the last night of college before graduation, and if we’d felt anything other than sky-high, we would have been doing it wrong. Tomorrow Annie and Lindy were off to New York: Annie had lined up a job in PR, Lindy was intent on being a superstar; Owen and Catherine were set to domesticate outside of Chicago. Colin was driving west to Palo Alto for medical school. A neurosurgeon. Colin was always a fixer, so I had no doubt he’d be the guy I’d want to work on my brain if it ever came to that. 
He’d asked me to join him for the road trip, and I was considering it. I had vague plans to head to Central America to volunteer at an orphanage, but like so many other things in my life, nothing was cast in stone, nothing was definitive. The only definitive things were these five, the roots we’d planted, the way our lives had flourished and intertwined with one another. 
“Listen,” I said, and they all peered up from their pads and gold pens, Lindy and Annie craning their necks from the front stoop. “Promise me that after tomorrow, nothing will change. That no matter where we all end up, we’ll stay family.” The air got caught in my throat, and Annie rose to grab my hand, ripping her paper, tossing her draft into the trash, as if she thought I wouldn’t notice. “You guys are my family. So please. Promise.”
“Bea,” Annie said, “don’t say it like something bad’s gonna happen. Don’t say it so ominously.” 
I wanted to say: You don’t know. You don’t know how time works. How it can sneak up so quickly you don’t even realize what it’s stolen from you. But Annie was so sincere, and besides, this was my burden, not theirs. 
“Just promise.” My voice still shook. 

They did. We all did.
We said it aloud. We said it to each other.
We promised.
“We’re streaking the campus police later,” Owen said, handing me his folded letter. I tucked it into an envelope. “Wanna come?” 
“Streaking!” Colin thumped his fists against the table. “It’s going to be legendary!” He set his pen down. “Come on, Bea, you in?”
“Maybe.” I smiled.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” He grinned back, because he knew me well.
“I’ve seen your naked ass before, you know; it’s no great shakes.” I leaned in and kissed his cheek. “Says just about no other girl on campus.” Owen laughed. “Bea’s in!” He raised his fists in triumph.
“Like I could say no,” I said. “I practically live for streaking.”
“Please don’t get arrested,” Catherine fretted. “Our parents are all in town! And we’re graduating tomorrow!”
Not everyone’s parents were in town, but we were past offending one another by parsing words. Only Annie’s mother was here. And my parents not at all.
But it didn’t matter. What mattered was the six of us. What mattered was our star. What mattered is that in this moment in time, we were unbreakable. We were light and destiny and a meteor shower of invincibility.
We were twenty-one. We were allowed to believe impossible things.