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if you must die, sweetheart

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There are nights Kent will never remember. Nights spinning circles in Sam's mind until the time her mind falls to a stop. There are days Kent has never lived and days he will never know, and yet, somewhere, deep within his heart, they still exist. She still exists.

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The night he held her for the first time - the horrible, horrible night when her friends were in the car and she wasn't, she was safe, safe in his home, safe in his arms. But when she had to tell her Elody had died, that she'd never see her friend again… that was never how he wanted them to come back together. So he held her to him, felt the beating of her heart against his warm chest, and ignored the way his fingers trembled as he closed them around the small of her back.

He couldn't have known she was waiting. He couldn't have known she craved sleep so the relief of morning could reel her back in, trap her back in a cycle where Elody was still alive. Elody, who was the best of them all. Elody who was too kind for the words Lindsey had said to her. Elody who had died in Sam's place - she should have been in that car. She knew this. The next day, she would be. But Kent couldn't have known this, he couldn't have known any of it. And when he woke up again, on February twelfth, he would still be feeling her body pressed against his, and he wouldn't understand, because he'd fallen asleep watching an old re-run on the couch. And yet, the scent of vanilla perfume still lingered on his clothes.

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This isn't you. He'd given her the note in English, and part of him wondered whether he still had the right. She clearly didn't think so. But seeing her knees curled into her chest, crying on the floor of his bedroom made him see that he was right, that he must have been right. And he forgot for a moment that it Sam Kingston - Samantha Kingston - in his bedroom for the first time since the third grade, because it was just Sam, his oldest friend, and she was crying. So he put his arm around her and led her to his bed, because she hadn't wanted to go home.

And though her eyes were red, and though her voice was hoarse from holding in tears, the small smile she gave him was enough to send his heart soaring. He saw a few spare tears slip onto his comforter. He fell asleep on the armchair next to her bed - after the text he had gotten about the accident and Juliet, he hadn't wanted to be alone.

He woke up in his bed the same morning, Cupid Day, no promise of her even looking his way, while across town Sam Kingston was waking up in her bed, the feel of his hand in hers still hot and pulsing. He couldn't know - not possibly - that she fell a little bit in love with him that night.

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How long had it been - a month? Three weeks? It all seemed to blur together. He remembered kissing her, in his car, in his room, and then seeing her run away, running after her and then -

The moon was pretty tonight. A full moon. The last time there'd been one had been a month ago. When it happened. The stars were out tonight, too. Such a pretty night for a pretty girl who hadn't lived to see it, who'd told him she loved him and then died. It was mid-March, and yet, uncharacteristically cold. He only knew he was crying when he felt his tears frozen on her face. His phone started to ring. Ally. Kent sighed, letting his chest rise and fall, hoping the steady motion could calm his rushing heart, because every time he thought of it, of the car and the blood and Sam, it was like he was in that moment. Out of breath from running, from calling her name, from slamming to a stop - everything slammed to a stop that night.

He picked it up just before it was about to go to voicemail. He cleared his throat, not even saying hello, not trusting himself to speak. "Kent? You haven't been answering the phone… We were worried."

"... Sorry." He said, and his voice cracked, gave him away.

"Oh, Kent." He breathed deep and heavy, and it was only the static on the her end of the line that kept him from falling apart.

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When she left that night, he thought it had ended. He thought that she'd given him ten minutes of her time and the next day she'd ignore him again and everything would stay the same. She'd forget about the rose and the kiss and the I love you and roll her eyes if he even breathed her way. When she ran out, so suddenly and jarringly that by the time she was out the door he could still taste her on his lips, he thought she'd finally come to his senses.

"Sam!" He'd called after her, grabbing her arm and pulling her back. "Sam, why did you run away from me?"

And then she said something like, "Not right now, Kent," or "I can't, Kent," and he was so sick of hearing that from her everyday, because she can't just kiss him and then say that again. He couldn't go back to before.

"You've been ignoring me for years and then you - you kiss me and you go back to acting I was invisible? I-"

"And I meant - I meant everything that happened back there. That's all I can say, that I meant it and I wish it hadn't taken me so long." Their words spilled into each other, and then she made to leave again and he pulled her back, one more time. Something about her face, something about her eyes was different, determined - frightening.

"Are you in trouble? I - You can trust me." And then her face softened, like something inside her shifted, and he could barely hear her over the music of the party.

"You can trust me back." And then she kissed him, again, holding her hands to the sides of his face and when she let go, something about the way her fingertips lingered on his skin told him that maybe she didn't want to let go, and then she was calling for Juliet, out the door and into the cold and he was running after her. He'd feared everything would be the same in the morning.

But he was wrong. Nothing was the same ever again.

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She'd spoken to him for the first time in years, in his room for the first time in years, and every word out of her mouth sounded brand new, like she was inventing them as she was going along. She had a secret to tell him, she'd said. That day at school, she'd told him that. And part of him wondered if this was all some elaborate joke Lindsey had convinced her to play on him, but a bigger, more hopeful part of him told him it was more.

"Yours was the best kiss of my life," she'd said, almost at a whisper. And he was confused, exhilarated, too, but confused, because they hadn't kissed since the third grade, and that was just a shy grade-school peck, and he told her this, shyly, as if saying it might break the spell she seemed to be under, but she just smiled, the corner of her lips curling slightly upward.

"Then we don't have much time." And for a blissful moment, Kent thought he was made only to kiss Samantha Kingston.

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Sometimes, Kent can't help but remember that night. Sometimes his memory takes him all the way there. He remembered it so vividly, and part of it he thought, was because there was a piece of him still living there, in that one glorious day with Sam, the only one he ever got, the only one he'll ever get. He remembered running through the cold, ducking over and under branches, Elody and Ally and Lindsey following him and he couldn't remember the last time they'd even looked his way.

But she'd been acting so weird, talking about time and trust and when he asked if she was in trouble, something in her eyes said yes. But Sam was fast - she always had been, even when they were little - and she was running faster than him, wherever she was headed to, she'd already gotten there. And finally, he reached it, his voice hoarse from screaming her name, trying to get her to run back to him so he could see her face, know she was okay.

He almost wished he'd gotten there a minute later so he wouldn't have to see it. But he did see it. Juliet dashing in front of a bus, eyes squeezed shut, arms outstretched, Sam running clumsily after her, pushing her to the ground and then - the impact. When it's too quiet, the sound of her body hitting the truck still rings in his ears. She soared through the air - like a dancer, he'd thought wildly, like an acrobat, but when she hit the ground, it wasn't graceful at all. He didn't remember clambering over to her, pressing his hand to her head in a futile effort to stop the bleeding - but there was so much bleeding, he didn't know where it was all coming from, he didn't know it was possible for such a small body to contain this much blood.

He became vaguely aware of Lindsey clumsily falling to her knees next to him, for once in her goddamned life at a loss for words. Sam's eyes were still open, her chest rising and falling shallowly. He heard Lindsey whip her head around, shrieking at Ally and Elody. "What are you doing? Call an ambulance!" But he couldn't tear her eyes away. Her eyes searched their faces, madly, until settling on Juliet who had crawled on her hands and knees, jeans cut open with a painful-looking scrape on her leg. And then, it was like something calmed inside of her, like a raging ocean tamed.

Something in her eyes seemed to say, Okay. Okay. And then she squeezed both eyes shut, like she was in pain, which she must have been, and then her whole body relaxed, and her face relaxed, and her breath relaxed and her pulse stopped. And that was it. The short life of Samantha Kingston drawn to a painful close. He hadn't even realized Juliet crying, "You saved me. Why did you save me?" He hadn't noticed a single thing but her.

His hands were still knotted in hair, now matted with blood and when the paramedics finally came and pulled him away, he found they were caked with dry flecks of brown. And they pulled her away, put her in one of those bags he'd only ever seen on crime shows. And then, he never saw her again.

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Kent couldn't have known that in the milliseconds before the bus hit her body, she saw him. She was Izzy, her sister, and of course Lindsey, Elody, and Ally, her parents, her horses, but she remembered kissing him. The memory of soft lips pressed together shined brightest. Her greatest hit of all.

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Kent dreamed about her all the time. Dreamed of nights that never happened, nights he never lived. He dreamed of the day if it had gone differently, if it had ended with her in his arms, or her in her home, or her safe and alive. But sometimes it ended with her death again, too. When his nights weren't dreamless, his dreams were filled with her. He founded himself chugging down coffee and 5-hour energy drinks just so he wouldn't have to hear her voice again and know that it wasn't real.

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Some days were easier than others. Some days he'd look around and see what she'd done. Lindsey was softer, smoother around the edges, cordial where she used to be vile. Elody had grown kinder, if that was even possible. It was as if she was scared every interaction with someone would be her last.

And Juliet - well, he'd worried about her during the times he wasn't driven mindless with pain. But surprisingly, she was doing better. Maybe all she really need was someone to believe in her, to let her know she was worth it. And Sam had done that, though he'd really have preferred if she'd found another way, another way that would let him hold her again, drive her around, let her sit in his room every damn day, kiss her again, or maybe not at all.

Because maybe just knowing she existed somewhere, that she was alive somewhere in the world would have been enough for him.

He'd never know.

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There was one thing Sam wished she'd been able to show him. Every day, she died, and every morning, she'd woken up again, prepared to relive it. But as she was dying, he was the one who had taught her to live. And in the extra time she'd been given, in the short time she'd had leftover, it was him who let her make the most of every blessed moment, up until her very last.