After
Author:Kristin Harmel

After by Kristin Harmel




To my friends Kate Atwood, Carleigh Pearson,

Cole Pearson, Luke Pearson, and everyone else

who has lost a parent too soon.





And as always, to Carol Harmel.

I couldn’t ask for a better mother.

I love you!





A BIG THANK-YOU



To Kate Atwood, the founder of Kate’s Club in Atlanta, and to NFL quarterback Brian Griese, the founder of Judi’s House in Denver. Both of you lost a parent too soon, and you’ve turned your grief into something that has helped thousands of children. Your mothers would be so very proud of you. I’m honored to have become a part of your world.

To the Pearsons: Susan, Carleigh, Cole, and Luke. This book, while not based on you, was inspired by the time I’ve spent with you. I’m so glad to call you friends; I feel like you’re my Atlanta family! And I’m so impressed with all of you; you’re all amazing, strong, kind people, and I can’t wait to see what wonderful things life brings you.

To my wonderful editor, Wendy Loggia, who has once again helped beat a rough manuscript into shape. Your guidance is invaluable, and I’m glad to work with you.

To my amazing literary agent, Jenny Bent; her assistant, Chris Kondrich; my film agent, Andy Cohen; and the wonderful Delacorte Press family, including Elizabeth Zajac, Krista Vitola, and Angela Carlino.

To my People magazine editor, Nancy Jeffrey, who allows me to work on the kind of stories that inspire me, move me, and let me share the heroism of good people with the world.

To my own family, especially Mom, Dad, Karen, and Dave, and to all my wonderful friends.

To all of my many writer friends: It’s such a pleasure and honor to know all of you. Thanks especially to Megan Crane, Liza Palmer, Jane Porter, Melissa Senate, Sarah Mlynowski, Alison Pace, Lynda Curnyn, Brenda Janowitz, Lisa Daily, and Emily Giffin, who are truly wonderful people as well as wonderful writers.

And to you, the reader. This book is about changing your own little corner of the world. I hope that you feel inspired. Thanks for reading!





prologue



The day my whole world changed started like any other Saturday.

“Lacey!” my dad called. “Are you coming? It’s going to be dinnertime when we get there!”

I looked in the bathroom mirror and made a face. He said the same thing every Saturday morning—but maybe that was because I took longer getting ready than anyone else.

“Why don’t you just get up earlier?” My brother Logan, who was eleven months older than me, appeared in the doorway and looked suspiciously at my reflection. I knew he’d been sent up to get me. I was putting on a coat of mascara and paused to glare at him.

“I need my beauty sleep,” I said, trying to sound haughty.

He rolled his eyes. “No kidding,” he muttered. “I think you need a little more.”

He was gone by the time I threw a tube of toothpaste at him.

Five minutes later, when I came downstairs, my dad, Logan, and my little brother, Tanner, were standing in the hallway, already bundled up in their coats and scarves. It was unusually cold that day, even though it was only November fifteenth. There had been an early freeze, and it hadn’t worn off yet. My dad held out my pink puffer jacket, and as I stepped into the hallway and took it from him, he winked, one corner of his mouth jerking upward just a little. I knew he was trying to hide his amusement from Logan and Tanner.

“What the heck takes you so long anyway?” Tanner said. “I’m glad I’m not a girl.”

Logan high-fived him. My dad looked up at me. “Is Your Royal Highness finally ready?” he asked, bowing slightly.

My dad always called me that when I took a long time to get dressed. Even though he sometimes pretended to be as exasperated as Logan and Tanner, I think he secretly didn’t mind.

“Where’s my beautiful wife?” Dad singsonged as I zipped up my jacket. Mom rounded the corner, dressed in the same ratty pink bathrobe she’d had for years, the one she would never throw away because it was the first gift Logan and I ever picked out for her, when Logan was four and I was three and Dad took us Christmas shopping. We’d bought her a new one last Christmas, but she refused to switch over.

She was in her usual state of morning messiness, with sleep-flattened reddish brown, shoulder-length curls flying every which way and her cheeks slightly blotchy before she made it to her vanity mirror and her tray full of makeup. I always wished that I had inherited her pretty hair and Dad’s flawless complexion, but instead, it was the other way around. I had Dad’s stick-straight dirty blond hair that always looked stringy if I didn’t use a curling iron on the ends (which I hardly ever had time to do considering I shared a bathroom with two boys) and Mom’s acne-prone skin. Thank goodness for Clearasil, but most of the time my face was sporting at least one major zit, usually in a totally unflattering location like the middle of my forehead or smack in the center of my chin.

“You’re taking my family and leaving me?” Mom asked dramatically, clutching her hands over her heart. “Whatever will I do?”

Mom said the same thing every Saturday when Dad took the three of us out to breakfast. He called it “Dad time,” and while we were out scarfing down pancakes at the Plymouth Diner, Mom was having her weekly “Mom time,” which apparently included sitting around in her robe, sipping a cup of coffee, and putting on a facial mask while she fast-forwarded through TiVoed episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and CSI and whatever else she’d dozed off watching during the previous week.