I used to be jealous of this notebook, watching him scribble in it and stare at the pages when I wished he was staring at me. Now I hold it tight in my hands like his never will again.
His little black notebook, as well-guarded as he was. I imagined he was writing in it about me, and after the funeral, when his dad decided I should have it, I assumed I was right. But here I am flipping through it again, wishing it was more like the little black book my mother used to keep before her pursuits of heroin overpowered her romantic ones. At first, all that filled the void left in me by Carter’s death was heartbreak. But now there is this obligation. Which, strangely, weighs heavier on me than the loneliness.
Carter’s List for an Ultimately Epic Life:
1. NYC BABY!
I’m already screwed.
2. Read 20 books before turning 20**
Doable, I suppose.
3. Beat Corinne in Just Dance
Maybe it was better when my name was absent from the notebook.
“He’ll live through you now, Corinne,” Spencer said after the funeral. How? I wanted to ask. How can I live like he would’ve? He was everything I am not. But I just looked blankly at my foster-sister and willed the tears to stop.
It’s been a week since then, and my eyes aren’t swollen anymore.
16. Ride your bike instead of taking the bus**
This one he had told me about. Is that what the stars mean?
“Do it with me, Corinne,” he had yelled, pulling my bike out of my bio-mom’s side-yard.
“Shhh, you’ll wake the She-Wolf!” I smacked his arm, peeking through the window to make sure Train-Wreck Brandi was still asleep on the other side of the wall. “Found out this week she needs, like, thousands of dollars to get her uninsured self into rehab, and I’m not tryna kill her vibe even more.”
He laughed, lowering his voice. “Come on! Maybe it’ll give you that ‘glowy skin’ you always want.”
“You don’t think my skin is glowy already?” I put my hands on my hips.
He rolled his eyes. “If it wasn’t, I don’t think they woulda made you a semi-finalist in that model search contest.” I smiled as I watched him fiddle with the rusted chain on my bike, trying to get it back in gear after years of neglect. At least it’s just a piece of metal, not my kid.
My fingers trace where he scribbled in the margin next to number sixteen, “Started Friday the 18th!” By Saturday afternoon, he was dead. Maybe if I said yes, I would’ve gotten hit instead of him.
I turn the page quickly.
23. Marathon all the Harry Potters
That, I can do.
I close the notebook and yell down to Spencer. “Hey, Potter Head!”
“What?” She looks up from her homework as I walk downstairs into the kitchen.
“I’m finally ready,” I say.
“Really?!” She jumps out of her chair, squealing as she runs into the family room. “Trig can wait!” She lunges onto the couch and turns on the DVD player. “We finally wore her down, Harry!”
She sits in reverent silence until halfway through the second movie. “So,” Spencer asks me, “what made you finally want to enter into the wizarding world?” She laughs. “Just cause you love me so much?” I don’t respond, and she looks over at me. “What?”
She pauses the movie when she sees my face. “Is it, did…did Carter want to watch them?” I nod, reluctantly holding up 2 and 3 on my fingers. “23?” I pull the notebook out of my sweatshirt pocket. She sits up when she sees what it is, reaching her hand out but stopping short. “Do you mind if… can I?” My eyes stay fixed on my lap as I hand it to her. “I didn’t know you had this.” She grabs it carefully. “Did John give it you?”
Yes, I want to say, that the wrinkles in the paper were from John’s tears as he handed me his dead son’s prized possession. All I can do is nod.
“Okay,” Spencer exhales. “There’s a lot of stuff on this list. You gonna do all of it?”
“All except the first thing.”
She nods. “One day, you will.” She smiles as she scoots over onto the chaise next to me. “But until then, we got a lot more Hogwarts on our agenda.”
When we get to Deathly Hallows it’s 6am, and Spencer’s sipping coffee to keep me company. I’m bored of the movies, but I can’t sleep. I’ve hardly been sleeping at all.
“This coffee’s making me pee,” she sighs as she slides off the couch. “BRB.”
Ding. I look down at my phone that’s sitting on top of the notebook.
Congratulations! You have received the second-place title in the 6th Annual Young Model contest. Please visit our offices 9-5 Monday through Friday to finalize your contract and receive your $20,000 cash prize.
I bolt upright. The sound of Carter’s name catching in my throat stands alone in the silent house until I run over and bang on the bathroom door.
“Spencer! Open up, I just won $20,000.”
She swings the door open with a gasp, still pulling her pants up.
“That modeling contest he helped me enter.” I exhale. “I’m America’s…second…next top model.”
“OMG, Corinne!” she screams, hugging me tightly.
“Now I can finish the list.” I breathe.
She pulls back. “You’re gonna go to New York?”
“The one impossible thing on there…it’s not impossible anymore.” I almost smile. “The contract’s valid in LA or New York. This is a sign.”
Spencer’s response is cut off by the bedroom door opening downstairs. I squeeze her hand before running down to greet my adoptive-mom.
“Guess who won $20,000 and is going to be a model in Manhattan?” I step back to see her wide eyes.
“You’re moving to New York?”
“Yup. Getting out of this hellhole. And,” I exhale in relief, “putting 3000 miles between me and Brandi. Can’t wait to see her try to tell me again that I don’t have ‘beauty or brains’ once she sees me on a billboard.”
“At least you have a bio-mom to run away from,” Spencer mumbles.
Mom exchanges looks with her foster-daughter before looking back to me. “Well,” she takes a deep breath, hugging me again. “Congratulations, mi amor.”
“I’m heading downtown this morning to the agency office to get my check,” I say. Mom smiles, and Spencer tries to. Is that what I look like?
I sigh as we crawl through the afternoon traffic on the 170N.
Really, Carter? I flip to the next page as I wait for the Sherman exit.
31. Meet a celebrity (preferably a HOT one)
Well, I think, I am a model now.
Alone in the back row of the bus, I examine the check again. We could both be meeting celebrities in New York with this money.
That evening, I walk out of the bathroom after washing the city bus off me to see Spencer looking at the notebook.
“Sorry…” she drops it. “It was on our nightstand. I just…”
“You woulda peeped when he was alive if you had the chance.” I sit on the bed next to her.
“True,” she laughs. “He always kept it so secret.”
“Well, it’s ours to read now.” I lay my head on her shoulder as she reopens it.
“‘Thirty-four. Hitchhike to Malibu.’ Interesting.” She flips the page. “‘Thirty-five. Camp on the beach.’ Isn’t that illegal?”
“Not in Malibu, apparently.”
“Takes care of our weekend plans,” she smiles.
“It’s fine, Spence. You don’t have to do this stuff with me.”
“You think I’m letting the next Vogue cover-girl camp alone in pothead territory?” She shakes her head. “Gotta take advantage of all my time with you before you trade-in microwave meals with me for dinner parties with Gigi Hadid.”
I wave at Spencer from the table as she leaves for school the next morning. The morning light pours through the windows onto the corners where the black has worn off.
47. Get out of Sun Valley
As soon as the check clears.
48. Make things right with Mom**
He did make up with her, last year. Maybe this one was meant for me too.
49. Donate to charity
Guess he was going for two of my birds with one stone. One impossible, never-going-to-happen stone.
I slam the notebook down on the kitchen table, overwhelmed with the thought of facing the charity case that’s been haunting me since I first got put in the foster system.
“What’s wrong, Mija?” Mom asks as she walks in the door with groceries.
“Nothing,” I mutter, but my body overpowers my will and I start sobbing.
She rushes over, dropping the bags and hugging me tightly.
“I can’t, Mama. I can’t.” My chest heaves.
“Can’t what?” I point to the book. She squeezes me even tighter.
“I promised I was never gonna go back once I turned 18. Two years is not long enough to prepare me to see her.”
“Oh, Corrina,” she strokes my face. “You have been so strong…”
“But I can’t even finish more than three things for him.” I throw my hands up.
“Did he ask you to do all this?” I can’t answer. “Life is for the living,” she says. “He’d want you to live your life…Not his.” She strokes my hair. “But, if there was only one thing in here that he’d want you to do…” She pauses. “Just because you have me, it doesn’t make her go away.” I nod. “What is it, number 40…?”
“48,” I say. “And 49, too.” She chuckles.
“It’s not just for him. You know Spencer would give anything to have a chance like this with her mother.” She kisses my forehead. “You can still do your modeling here…New York will always be there. Brandi won’t.”
The sun is setting by the time I dry my tears and arrive at an all-too-familiar stop. Roscoe Boulevard is empty, and I haven’t missed Carter as much as I do right now. Last time I was here, he was by my side.
The lawn is overgrown with weeds, and the metal gate screeches as I open it. I guess the sound wakes her because she’s already standing in the open doorway when I get to the porch.
My voice wavers. “Get your things, Brandi.”
“What is this, Corinne?” When she steps forward into the last bits of sunlight, I can see the bruises below the rolled-up sleeves of her bathrobe. She throws her hands up. “Another one of your ‘Instagrammer’ lectures?” She groans, making up for my silence. “What’ya got there, huh?”
Avoiding her gaze, I step forward to show her the check. She tries to snatch it out of my hand, but I pull it away. “Now that I can pay, one call to my social worker and you’ll get put in rehab against your will. So please, just…” I finally meet her bloodshot eyes. “Let me help you, Mom.”
I wrap my sweater around me, flipping through the last few unread pages in the waiting room while they check her in.
59. Catch a fly ball at a Dodger game
66. Actually help an old lady carry groceries
73. Land a kick-flip**
80. Learn how to play a song on guitar
99. Fall in love******
Finally, the key to what the stars mean.
** = COMPLETED
Heart pounding, I turn the page to find #100.
You made it to the LAST ITEM, which means your life is 99% epic. Now, you finally might just be worthy of completing the last, BIGGEST goal…
100. Marry your beauty queen, Corinne. ❤
Sitting alone in a cold rehab clinic, for the first time since I lost him, I actually smile.
Guess I made it to the end of the list after all.