So maybe Rosie always knew.
That Stan wasn't her father?
When she learns the truth, it's a Sunday, just before dinner. And she can hear her mom laughing from the hall and her brothers fighting over a video game and her dad... Her dad, his voice muffled and far away. But she knows he's in the kitchen, his head stuck under the sink, trying to fix those pipes, again. He's probably swearing at them. Probably, he is.
She puts on a record, drowns out the sound, tries to ignore the scent of whatever's cooking and the growling of her stomach, and she thinks of calling Alexi.
He kind of hates it when she just drops by, without calling, without even texting.
He never knows who might see her, there at his apartment, who might be there when she shows up. But it's not like they could say anything. Rosie isn't Stan. It's not like he'd be breaking any rules or anything. In fact, the guys would probably slap him on the back, congratulate him for screwing the Larsen girl. That's one way to stick it to him, they'd probably say. It's not like that, he'd think it, but wouldn't say it. Because then there would be questions. And Alexi doesn't need questions. Not about Rosie. So it's better if nobody sees her, if nobody knows. Which is why he kind of hates it when she just drops by. (But if he's being honest with himself? He doesn't mind it so much. He doesn't mind it at all.)
She talks about Stan a lot. It's weird, he thinks. Her little brothers, her aunt Terry, but mostly her dad. It's always "My dad says this..." Or, "Dad once told me..." My dad. My dad. My dad.
So Alexi thinks it's kind of strange when she comes over and starts calling him Stan. Not Dad. Just Stan.
It's a Sunday night, after curfew, her mom thinking she's studying late with Sterling, and she curls up next to him on the couch and says: Do you wanna know a secret?
Alexi has secrets of his own.
Plenty of them.
"I do," he answers. "Tell me."
Rosie remembers the summer before everything changed.
This is before Jasper tried to get into her pants and before Sterling started looking at her with jealous eyes, before she met Alexi, before she knew the truth.
"Let's go swimming," she says, and Jasper gawks at her, gesturing to the extravagant pool laid out before them in the Ames' house. Rosie rolls her eyes and she thinks, for a minute, Jasper actually looks wounded, but then he stands up, holds out his hand.
"All right," he says. "I'll get a car."
Rosie latches onto Sterling before grabbing his hand, and the three of them walk out. Together.
They drive out to Discovery Park, to this little swimming hole that Jasper knows of. They spend the day getting sunburns and drinking cheap beers and laughing like they did when they were kids. Rosie can almost remember exactly what it was like.
She comes home late that night, and Mitch gives them some aloe for their burns, ignoring the scent of alcohol on their breath, and lets Sterling sleep over again, even though it's been four days already, with no end in sight.
She remembers talking until daylight.
The two of them.
Best friends with nothing but time.
There's a part of him that wonders what she was like before, a part of him that wishes he'd known her when she was just a kid. Because she's got this light in her eyes and yet this sadness behind it and he wants to understand all of that. He wants to know her, for real. And he wants her to know the real him. It's irrational and stupid to wish for something that he can never have, but maybe if it were true then he could keep her, for just a little while longer.
Because even before she tells him that she's leaving town, Alexi gets the strangest feeling that they're running out of time.
It's past midnight when she tells him, when he's picking her up from her shift. He kisses her in the car, and she tastes like lip gloss and smells like cigarette smoke and disinfectant and he wishes he'd done that before, before now.
Rosie's eyes catch the moonlight and Alexi holds his breath and she whispers, "Why didn't you do that sooner?"
So, the thing about dying?
It fucking sucks.
Rosie is painfully aware of this fact.
She screams and kicks and she thinks about Denny and that stupid picture he drew her last week at school and how she barely even acknowledged it because she just thought she had so much. goddamn. time.
But she doesn't. She knows that now.
She's running out of air.
She's running out of breath.
She's running out of life.
And she doesn't have any time. Not anymore. So she pushes all the regrets away, all of the should have, could have, would haves. And she just thinks about her mom running her fingers through her hair the night before the 6th grade. So nervous she couldn't sleep. She remembers her dad carrying her off the soccer field when she broke her leg when she was eleven. She remembers the day Tommy came home, and Denny. And she remembers telling them ghost stories and how they clung to her when they were too scared. And she remembers Sterling. Sterling and her blue eyes and how she was always there for her and how much she loves her, forever, and their secret handshake in the third grade, and the way she laughs when they're alone together. And she remembers Alexi... the way he looked at her. And David, and how he seemed to love her even though he never knew the truth. She remembers the butterflies.
And then she remembers nothing at all.
Nothing, or maybe something.
Maybe a summer day.
And then she closes her eyes.