Golden Jessi Kirby

For my grandma, MARIETTA, who introduced me to the simple beauty of Frost’s words, and my grandpa, GERARD, who always believed in mine

life is made of moments. and choices. Not all of them matter, or have any lasting impact. Skipping class in favor of a taste of freedom, picking a prom dress because of the way it transforms you into a princess in the mirror. Even the nights you steal away from an open window, tiptoe silent to the end of the driveway, where darkened headlights and the pull of something unknown beckon. These are all small choices, really. Insignificant as soon as they’re made. Innocent.

But then.

Then there’s a different kind of moment. One when things are irrevocably changed by a choice we make. A moment we will play endlessly in our minds on lonely nights and empty days. One we’ll search repeatedly for some indication that what we chose was right, some small sign that tells us the truth isn’t nearly as awful as it feels. Or as awful as anyone would think if they knew.

So we explain it to ourselves, justify it enough to sleep. And then we bury it deep, so deep we can almost pretend it never happened. But as much as we wish it were different, the truth is, our worlds are sometimes balanced on choices we make and the secrets we keep.

1.

“To a Thinker”

—1936

There’s no such thing as a secret in this town. But I’m keeping this one, just for today. I fold the letter once, twice, three times and slide it into my back pocket like a golden ticket, because that’s what it is. A ticket out. Being chosen as a finalist for the Cruz-Farnetti Scholarship is my version of winning the lottery. It means Stanford pre-med and everything else I’ve worked for.

Icy wind sears my cheeks red as I cross the school parking lot, and I curse Johnny Mountain for being right when he forecast the late spring storm. If the biting wind and swirling white sky are any indication, we may be graduating in the snow, which is not at all how I pictured it. But today I don’t really mind. Today the wind and I burst through the double doors together, and it carries me like someone who’s going places, because now it’s official. I am.

Kat’s already at my locker when I get there and it gives me the smallest pause. We don’t keep secrets from each other. Her eyes run over me, top to bottom, and she smiles slowly. “You look like you’re in a good mood.” It’s more friendly accusation than casual greeting, and she punctuates it by leaning back against the blue metal of the lockers and waiting expectantly.

“What? I can’t be in a good mood?” I reach around her and spin the lock without looking at the numbers, try to hide my smile.

She shrugs and steps aside. “I’m not. This weather sucks. Mountain says it’s gonna be the worst storm in ten years or some bullshit like that. I’m so over the frickin’ snow. It’s May. We should be wearing tiny shorts and tank tops instead of . . . this.” She looks down at her outfit in disdain.

“Well,” I say, trying to pull my mind away from visions of the red-tiled roofs and snowless breezeways of Stanford, “you look cute anyway.”

Kat rolls her eyes, but straightens up her shoulders the slightest bit and I know that’s exactly what she wanted to hear. She stands there looking effortless in her skinny jeans, tall boots, and a top that falls perfectly off one shoulder, revealing a lacy black