She is a winding cosmos, bleeding and bursting into night. She is a dream. She is dead.
River has just lost the one thing that matters most to him—Nia—and all she’s left behind is a pile of scribbled love notes detailing their past and a pin-holed map planning out their future. Hopes and dreams confined to one dimension now that she’s gone and River’s too afraid to leave his hometown, crippled by the same anxiety that’s plagued his mother for as long as he can remember.
But after a strange encounter with the only girl he ever loved a week after laying her to rest, River, armed with nothing but her map and his memories, decides to finally leave and never look back. And with the help of a pair of eccentrically named siblings as well as a mutt with three legs, he sets out to do the very thing Nia always knew how to do better than he ever could—live.
From the moonlit beaches off of Florida’s east coast, to the forests of Mississippi, to Bourbon Street, Cadillac Ranch, and the Arizona desert, River is faced with not only Nia’s ghost but his own and he learns that in life there are no accidents, only miracles.
“I was standing on the beach, her note twisted in my grip. We’d barely spoken in a week but then I was leaving work and I saw the strip of paper tucked underneath my windshield. It said to meet her. That she was sorry. And yet there I was, watching the waves lap at her from a distance, hair already wet and hanging down her back, as if I was the one who should be sorry.
Because I’d said no.
She’d asked me for one thing. To go with her. And I’d said no.
I finally waded out to where she was waiting on the first sand bar.
After a long pause she said, “I’m sorry.”
She reached for my hand and I reached back.
“I’m sorry too,” I said.
“Don’t,” she stopped me.
We waded out a little farther and she floated onto her back. I watched the night ripple over her, stars flush to her skin. She slipped out of her bathing suit, the fabric floating there atop the water as the moon pooled across her skin, light bleeding into her navel, down between her breasts.
My fingers crawled across her skin and she pulled me under. I found her lips, bodies pouring into one another while the light danced above our heads. She led me toward the air again, her eyes catching the night’s flame, flickering there in the dark.
“Do you think this is what it feels like?” she said.
“Do you think this is what it feels like to be dead?”
“What do you mean?”
She kicked, floating onto her back again, stars tangled in her hair.
“This drifting. I bet it’s warm. I bet it feels like a wave pulling you away from shore.”
“No,” I said, afraid.
“Do you think there are stars? Do you think you can get tangled in them?”
“There’s no heaven for stars.”
She stood, facing the moon. “Unless that’s it.”
“Maybe,” I said, still watching her.
“Maybe. Sometimes I wish I could remember,” she said. “Like maybe it would give me permission to be sad. Like maybe then Mari wouldn’t hate me.”
I didn’t know what to say.
“Do you think she’ll ever forgive me?”
Then I remembered what day it was. The day her father had died.
“You don’t need that from her,” I said.
“Yes I do,” Nia breathed. “Today I do.”
Tears slid down her neck and into the water. I reached for her.
“I hope this is what it’s like.”
Nia held her breath, letting go of my hand, and then I watched her sink. ”
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