Disclaimer: All hail Josh and the people at FOX who protect the characters they have created, lovingly built up, and then ruined six times over from people like me who would try to profit from said characters without consent. As I only want to be paid in reviews, however, I don't think they would object to my attempt to try and salvage something from their wreck of a season finale.

Notes: I don't hang out in this category much. I'm guessing this topic has been done to death. And yet I can't seem to stop myself. If I messed up important canon, please tell me so I can correct it.

Keep Pretending

When she gets the call, her body is drenched in ice and she can't breathe, can't feel, can't think. She knows from the first minute that it's neither a mistake nor a dream. Yesterday Marissa was wearing a blue graduate's gown and today she is draped in a coroner's sheet. Summer never questions herself or anyone else about the reality.

She goes to the funeral in the appropriate shade of black and waits for the ice to melt, but her cheeks stay dry no matter how many photographs she looks at or how many people speak. On her own, she thinks about all the times they joked about death. Exams were killing them. French was hell. Best of all, she remembers them in fifth grade, saying they'd die if their respective crushes didn't start showing signs of liking them back. And then she thinks about all the times she wasn't joking, like when she caught Marissa with the red eyes and the nose to match, and she wrote that it would be miracle if Coop survived to the end of high school.

Miracle achieved.

Summer the season passes. Summer the girl doesn't work, doesn't shop, doesn't do much of anything, really, except get acquainted with the internet and learn everything she can about Brown and life on the other coast. It's the opposite of everything she's always known, but what used to terrify her now brings an odd kind of comfort. Nothing familiar means no familiar ache every time she looks across the hall.

It's not that she wants to forget her best friend; quite the opposite. Sometimes she imagines she's in the room with her, carrying on the kind of conversation they used to have. Hopefully that doesn't qualify her as crazy. She's been doing it less and less often, though, in favor of things that never interested her before. Like books. She's gotten really into books. Not exactly the list of the 100 Greatest Classics, but they're better than repeats on TV of shows she never used to watch alone. She's alone most of the time these days, since even her memories are better company than Ryan, who doesn't talk, or Seth, who never stops. When exactly did she lose all her other friends?

Packing begins a week before she leaves. The first thing she reaches for is the photo album, only to start picking out all the ones of Marissa, because she doesn't want to explain when people ask who she is. Then she picks out all the ones of Ryan, just because. And if they're both gone, should she keep Seth in? Eighteen days since their last kiss and sixty-five since they spent a night together. They should probably do that before she leaves.

In the end, Summer selects one picture of herself and her father, an old one of her mother, and one of a group of ten or so minor acquaintances taken at graduation. She puts these in frames and hopes they don't have to play one of those get-to-know-you games that ask "what's your best friend's name?" She'll probably say Taylor.

If people come to college to get away from high school, Summer doesn't understand why all the girls in her dorm are broken into small groups already, seemingly with old friends. Determined not to let it bother her, she goes to the shy girl in the corner, and gets her to open up and start talking about herself. Once she gets going, she doesn't even notice that Summer says very little in return.

The second night, eight other freshmen pound on her door and ask if she wants to come play Catch Phrase. After that, she thinks she understands. Everybody here starts out pretending. Everyone wants to fit in. And nobody cares what your life was like before August.

She doesn't have to explain about the friend that died because of a jealous ex and an oversized car, or the boy who couldn't save her life, or the boyfriend-not-boyfriend called Seth.

After three weeks, she still hasn't mentioned his name, and doesn't know what to say the first time she and the girls are at dinner and one asks if she has a boyfriend. Summer considers choking on a breadstick to buy time, but fortunately the hyperactive girl next to her interrupts. "Get real, Mandy, this is college. We have a whole buffet of hot, smart guys here just waiting to be picked up." Summer doesn't correct her. And the guy across the room, the one who just smiled and waved at her, has pretty nice pecs.

She's not really interested, but she might as well keep pretending. The false smile has gotten her through four months so far. Only the rest of her life to go.