The Liar's Guide to the Night Sky by Brianna R. Shrum

IT’S NOT THE COLD of everything around us that gets to me in these last five minutes—it’s the heat building in me.

The way my mind races hot and fast, knowing there’s no way out of this cave.

The warmth that spreads through my body against the furious wind outside, the snowy walls of this makeshift den—warmth that feels a whole lot like those last hazy seconds before sleep.

The smoke and red in Jonah Ramirez’s eyes when he grabs my jaw and says through clenched teeth, “Don’t. Hallie Jacob, if you give up on me now, if you leave me alone up here, I will never fucking forgive you.”

I blink.



One Mississippi.

Snow and wind beating against the trees, the ground, everything, everything.

Two Mississippi.

Lightning, flash against a tree, snap and crackle and the clean stench of burning wood. They call it thundersnow, not that that matters now.



I breathe the cold into my lungs.

It all feels like ice. But touch it long enough, and ice starts to feel like fire.

I brush my hand over Jonah’s knuckles on my jaw.

The world lights up like a flare.


IT ISN’T THAT I don’t want to be here, as much as it is that if the devil were to show up at these hipster-ass crossroads in horn-rimmed glasses and a waxed moustache and happen to offer me transport out in exchange for my soul, I’d take it.

I don’t hate Colorado, I don’t hate ski slopes, I don’t even hate the sharp-toothed bite of the cold in my calves, the numb in my toes. I almost like the way it hurts when I sit by the fire in the lodge and ice-pick feeling returns to the frozen items I used to call fingers. It prickles, it hurts, but it makes me feel like life is returning to pieces of me. So no, I don’t really hate any of it.

It’s just that, god, I loved Massachusetts. I hate that I even think it past tense, like Oh, right! Massachusetts died. I don’t “loved” it. I do still love it. If I close my eyes, I can still smell the bright crisp fog off the Connecticut River, clinging to my clothes when I strayed a little too close to the water.

I shut them tight, but not so tight that it doesn’t dissipate in an instant.

Here, outside this ski lodge, it smells like weed. Like skunk rot and smoke.

And well. You know what they say.

Where there’s smoke? There’s Jonah.

I can hear him laughing over all the rest of them—who knows how many of my cousins and their significant others and their who-knows-whoevers. I want to go find them.

I want to distract myself with what they’re smoking. I want to know what it is Jonah’s laughing about so loud, but I’m not really allowed. I don’t know how intensely your parents can really ground you two months out from eighteen, but if I’m hanging out alone in the dark anywhere Jonah Ramirez is, and I come back into the suite smelling like weed, I’ll find out.

My parents are kind of assholes about my dad’s brother’s kids—Jolie and Jaxon (maddening, the same-letter-first-name thing. Thank god they stopped at two). Everyone knows it’s more about the super Family Drama on the CW history between my dad and my uncle than it is about Jolie and Jaxon. But my cousins have given my parents enough reasons, I guess, for them to feel okay about being total jerks. Jolie is cool but a little artsy, a little follow-your-heart, a little vegan for their tastes. And Jaxon, well. Jaxon is a fucking disaster.

I like him because he always shows up to family gatherings in clothes that are super politically inflammatory and his hair is always cut weird and different and he always finds me and talks to me like he cares what I think about anything. He drops f-bombs too loud and has too many tattoos, and the same shit I think is great about Jaxon Jacob is the same shit my parents can’t stand about him.

Side note: Dad and Uncle Reuben pretend they hate each other because of four decades of bad blood that everyone knows about but no one’s allowed to mention. But, I don’t know. If I’m putting money on it, I’d say it’s gotta be this bullshit: Jaxon and Jolie Jacob. Jaxon. And Jolie. Jacob. How much can you really trust people who do this to their children on purpose?

It’s complicated, I guess. Always eggshells when we’re together because my parents make a big show out of being Disapproving™ of Uncle Reuben and, by extension, his wife and their offspring. And Uncle Reuben plays back, and I have to pretend I’m not on my cousins’ side. But they don’t outright ban me from hanging out with them. There’s a line, I guess.