Heroine by Mindy McGinnis


For Paige—

I love to watch you play.


This book contains realistic depictions of opioid use.

Recovered and recovering addicts should proceed with caution.


When I wake up, all my friends are dead.

I don’t know when they stopped breathing, or how long I slept while they dropped off one by one. Josie’s basement is a windowless place where time does not matter, the lights set low. She’s sprawled across a couch, lips gone gray underneath the plumping lip gloss she uses to cover the fact that she’s started shredding them with her teeth, devouring herself with need when there’s no needle in reach.

I try to get up, my hip refusing to carry me in the pivotal moment when I rise. I bump into the coffee table, sending a syringe rolling onto the floor.


“Josie?” I say, putting my fingers to her wrist.

I don’t know how to find a pulse, don’t know what fingers I’m supposed to be using or if I’m touching her in the right place. I try the side of her neck, but get nothing, her skin cool.

It’s expensive skin, the kind that’s never had too much sun or been too dry. Josie’s never had calluses on her palms like mine, and she paid to have the one scar on her body lasered away. Me, I’m a map of pain, needle pricks you could connect all over my skin to make constellations named things like Agony and Writhing Woman, all of them converging to form a supernova at my hip, one that pulses and breathes, on the verge of imploding into a black hole.

Even the fingernails I’m pressing against Josie’s throat have dirt under them, tiny grains I’ve carried with me since this afternoon from behind home plate. I can still feel the sun on my back from where it baked in, now trying to seep out, escape the darkness of this cave and the dead inside it.

I am thinking the same.

I check Derrick and Luther, but they’re gone. I curl my fingers with Luther’s, our knuckle bones near each other one last time, the closest we’ll ever get to a conversation about us, and what that word could have meant. I sneak up the stairs as if afraid I will wake them, the dose in my blood keeping me calm as I go out the back door. In the yard I move under the cover of trees that I doubt Josie ever climbed as a child, though I would have taught her how if I’d known her then. Instead I met her later, and the only thing she learned from me is how to find a vein.

I start my car but keep the lights off as I back out of the driveway, not turning them on until I’m out of the cul-de-sac. It’s dark and I’m driving exactly the speed limit, because I am a good girl. I am a student athlete and the catcher for an undefeated softball team and a senior who needs to get a good night’s sleep before her last league game.

I did not just watch my friends die.

I did not leave their bodies cooling in a basement.

I am not an addict.

Chapter One

accident: a sudden and unexpected event, usually of unfortunate character

A car crash does not happen in slow motion, like in the movies. It happens like this:

I’m talking to Carolina about the guy she likes, picking apart everything he said to her, every inch of body language that has been displayed for her benefit. I’m breaking it down for her, because while she’s beautiful and smart and tough and perfect, she’s also the only Puerto Rican for about a hundred miles and doesn’t think it’s possible that the quarterback would be into her instead of some white girl.

“Last week he said something funny at lunch and everybody busted out laughing, but you were the one he looked at,” I tell Carolina.

“So?” she says, hands curled around the pizza boxes on her lap.

“So out of our entire table of football players and cheerleaders, Aaron looks at the softball pitcher to see if she thinks he’s funny,” I say, braking for a turn that can be nasty on freezing nights, like this one.

“He is funny,” she concedes, spinning her class ring on her finger. “I think I even saw your lips twitch.”

“Maybe,” I say. “But I’m not the one he likes.”

“People like you,” Carolina insists, an old conversation that we’ve been having ever since I befriended the only other girl at recess who didn’t have someone to play with. We were two loners then: her the kid whose skin wasn’t the same color as everyone else’s, me the one who never knew quite what to say, hesitating a little too long whenever I was asked to join in. The novelty of Carolina’s race wore off, her smile overcoming any reservation the other kids had.

Me, I don’t smile much.

“Like is a strong word,” I tell her.

“Fine,” she says, reaching for her phone to change the music. “But they’re definitely in awe of you, and that counts for something.”

That’s no lie. My classmates have been in awe of me ever since a badly aimed kickball sent our gym teacher to his knees in second grade. But that admiration never warmed into friendship, just high fives and first pick in gym class.

I’ll take it.

“The team loves you.” Carolina isn’t letting it go.

The team does love me. We’ve spent our summers together: sweat-soaked hair tucked behind our ears, wet towels on our necks when the Ohio afternoons shot past one hundred degrees. We grew up that way, backwoods girls knocking down bigger—and supposedly better—teams until even the city paper started sending out reporters to cover us, dirty kids with Capri Suns in our hands, arms draped over each other’s shoulders.

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