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Freeze Frame

Freeze Frame by Heidi Ayarbe
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No matter how many times Kyle rewrites the scene, he can't get it right. He tries it in the style of Hitchcock, Tarantino, Eastwood, all of his favorite directors—but regardless of the style, he can't remember what happened that day in the shed. The day Jason died. And until he can, there is one question that keeps haunting Kyle: Did he kill his best friend on purpose?

Debut novelist Heidi Ayarbe delves into the depths of the human psyche as Kyle wrestles with inner demons that make him wonder whether the world will ever be okay again—or if the best thing to do is find a way to join Jason.

HarperCollins; October 2009
384 pages; ISBN 9780061971495
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Title: Freeze Frame
Author: Heidi Ayarbe

Chapter One

Gray slats of light slipped between the bars, only to be swallowed by blackness. I shivered and pulled the colorless blanket around me, squeezing my eyes shut, holding my breath until the pain swelled and exploded in my chest. I exhaled and counted. Each breath took me farther away from where I wanted to be. But I had to go back. I had to change it.

Almost all of yesterday played like a movie in my head. I could start it, rewind, stop, fast-forward, and replay scenes—except for one. That scene never came clear. It was as if the film from the reel had been exposed to sunlight and gotten blotchy.

In some scenes, I even thought about making changes, doing a director's cut.

Melanie, go back and flip your hair to the other side.

When I thought about it like that, I felt like I had control, like it was a Quentin Tarantino movie, all out of order. I could change anything. But then I would remember. No matter how much changed inside my head, it was the same everywhere else.

October 8, 8:52 A.M., Scene One, Take One

We got up from the table because Jason had used all the syrup. The guy really poured it on. Dad ran down to the store to stock up, as if he knew I needed breakfast to be perfect.

Mom ordered us to get ready for the homecoming game and scooted us out of the kitchen. "You can eat in a couple of minutes."

"Sorry about the syrup, Mrs. Caroll," Jason said.

I shook my head. "My pancakes are gonna get cold. You could've saved a drop."

"Big deal, Kyle." Melanie flipped her hair. "God, Mom, he can be such a dumbass."

"Mel, watch your language." Mom glared.

Jason swallowed a laugh. In his house, he'd be nailed for saying dumbass. "Sorry, man. I like a lot of syrup."

"I guess so." I rolled my eyes. "Pig."

"You shouldn't insult your guest," Melanie huffed. "Grow up, Kyle."

Jason wasn't a "guest." You can't consider your best friend since kindergarten a guest, even if he hasn't been around for a while.

I glared at Mel. "It sure wouldn't have hurt you to save some either." I puffed out my cheeks and gut. "If I were you and had to wear that cheerleading skirt, I definitely wouldn't be eating pancakes—and especially not with syrup."

"Mom!" Melanie yelled. "Did you hear what he just said?"

Mom shot me her you're-a-step-from-deep-shit look.

"What?" I asked. "I didn't do anything. I swear!" But by that time Mom was after me with a spatula, and Jason and I ran out the kitchen door before she began screaming too.

"Oh, man," I grumbled, standing barefoot out on the frostbitten grass. I danced from one foot to the other. The cold burned my toes.

"Things don't change around here, huh?" Jason's teeth chattered. "It's cold, man. I'm, like, still in my pajamas." He looked around. "Remember when we decided to go snow camping out here after watching Vertical Limit?"

We'd thought it'd be pretty easy, pretend like we were mountaineers or something. Eat beef jerky for breakfast. We didn't even last an hour. We might've lasted longer if Jase hadn't insisted that he had frostbite. And I didn't want to have to explain to his mom why his toes fell off.

I laughed. "Maybe the coast is clear. Let's go back inside."

Jason and I peeked in the kitchen window. We saw Melanie blabbering away at Mom. Mom pushed a plate of half-eaten pancakes in front of her.

"It doesn't look good. Mel's pretty pissed." Jason turned toward me. "You might not get to go to the game."

"Nah." I shook my head. "You think?" I was standing on my toes, trying to keep my feet from freezing off.

"Yeah, man. That's the kind of shit that gets me sent to Pastor Pretzer."

Jason's family was really churchy, and he always had to talk to his minister when he got in trouble. Whenever we did something wrong at his house, Mrs. Bishop quoted something from the Bible. Her favorite was "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

When we were in ninth grade, I asked Mrs. Bishop if that meant we could do unto Kayla Griffin as we would have her do unto us, and she sent me home. I didn't think Mrs. Bishop would get so worked up. It's not like we were twelve or anything, and it was pretty funny.

Mom told me I was being disrespectful. I had to write a letter of apology to Mrs. Bishop and was put on Jason's "probation friend" list. After nine years of being best friends, I became a probation friend. Only Mrs. Bishop could think of crap like that.

"Well, I wouldn't have called her fat if she really was," I told Jason. "I'm not that big of an asshole." I looked back in the window. "Plus, when did our sisters become such freak shows? I mean, Mel used to be pretty cool before all the cheerleading and diets and shit."

Jason shrugged. "I dunno. So, what's next?"

"Let's hang in the shed until things cool down, unless you want to go around through the front door."

"Our feet would freeze off before we got there."

We crossed the backyard to Dad's work shed. The dew soaked my pajama pants. The door was locked, but I knew where Dad kept the key and grabbed it from the ledge. The shed had metal doors, kind of rusty; they screeched when we opened them.

"Shhhh," Jason said. "Keep it down."

The shed smelled like a mixture of oil, fertilizer, and wood shavings.

If I were a director, I could change everything. Jason and I could've gone into the garage and waited. We could've sucked up the cold and snuck in the front door. We could've gone down the street to his house. Maybe I wouldn't have told Mel she was fat. As a director, I had so many choices.