Authors: Melissa Pearl
The Betwixt Series
Before (Novella #0.5)
Beyond (Novella #1.5)
2013 Melissa Pearl
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, businesses, characters and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, actual events or locales is purely coincidental.
Cover art for Omnibus, Before and Beyond covers (copyright) by Eden Crane.
All rights reserved.
Cover art for Betwixt cover (copyright) by Brenda Howson. All rights reserved.
Cover photo (copyright) by Al Ronberg. All rights reserved.
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Table of Contents
Thanks for finding me.
Thanks for marrying me.
Thanks for being my jester.
I love you.
My boots make a sharp tapping sound as I clomp my way home. The loose gravel at the edge of the road jumps away from my anger, skirting ahead of me then tumbling down the steep embankment.
I can't believe I'm in this situation. How could my boyfriend be such a jerk? I cross my arms and shiver, trying to block the last thirty minutes from my mind. What w
ill people think? I blink away tears as I imagine the gossip tree shaking with mirth. How am I going to face everyone tomorrow?
I should have just given in and done what he wanted me to. I have before.
I look up at the night sky. It is clear and cold, the stars are brilliant with no streetlights to hinder their glow. I'm guessing it's around midnight. I can't see my watch face in this dim light. I can barely see two steps in front of me.
A cool wind whistles through my clothing and I wish, yet again, that I hadn't chosen to wear a sleeveless shirt with a plunging V-neck that left nothing to the imagination. Maybe Trent was right. I had dressed for it.
I look down at my knee-high boots and skinny jeans so tight they'd have to be peeled off. I suddenly feel like a hooker. My lower lip wobbles. I can feel the melt down setting in. I struggle to hold it together.
I'm stuck in the middle of who knows where. I have no idea how long it's going to take me to walk home... I don't even know which direction home is.
Trent said it would be romantic, the best vista point he'd ever found, but it wasn't a scenic overlook. It was just a clearing of darkness where mischief could never be discovered.
Bile swirls in my stomach.
The metal dog tags clink against my sternum. I can feel them swinging back and forth in time with my march. I grab them through my clothing and squeeze. I'm tempted to take them off and hurl them into the trees beside me, but I can't. I blame them though... well not them exactly, but the person who gave them to me.
Why had I put them on? They had been hidden in my jewelry box for months. My fingers had brushed over them as I was searching for my hoop earrings and I'd been compelled to slip them over my head and stuff them beneath my shirt. If I hadn't put them on, I wouldn't have thought of him and if he hadn’t been swimming around in the back of my brain, I wouldn't be in this situation.
Dale Finnigan and his "you should know better look" had a lot to answer for tonight. I hitch my bag higher onto my shoulder. M
y march is getting faster. The need to be out of here burns. I start the long descent down the winding road, my mind playing tricks with me.
Maybe you should call, Dale.
You know he'd come and collect you.
"No he wouldn't," I say to the air. "He hates me."
The word sends a shudder through my system and I slam the door on my brain. It can just shut up right now.
I won't be calling Dale.
I reach into my bag and fish around for my phone. I stop in my tracks to have a better look,
but with no light, the endeavor is hopeless. It looks like I won't be calling anyone. I grit my teeth and keep walking, picking up my pace as I round the corner. The wind whistles through my clothing again and I shiver. I should stop and put my jacket on, but I don't want to. If I just keep walking I won't have to stop and really analyze the crap I'm in.
My brain doesn't play fair and I analyze it anyway.
It's Tuesday night. Most normal sixteen year olds would be home in their beds having done their homework, watched a little TV, and said goodnight to their parents, but not me, right? I always have to do things differently.
My mouth pinches
into a tight line as the simplicity and bliss of that kind of life feels a million miles away.
I shake my head.
"What am I talking about? My life rocks." I say the last word way too loud as I continue to convince myself. "I have just been at study group."
I laugh. Why did we even call it that? We never studied. It was basically Tuesday night party time. Matt's parents were out of town, so we had blasted the music and stood down by the lake goofing around and laughing until our bellies ached.
I grin as I picture the scene in my head — friends surrounding me, Trent's arm across my shoulders making me feel safe.
I wish his arms were around me now.
The second part of the night had not been so great.
I wrap my arms around myself and squeeze, trying to eradicate the memories, the look of annoyance scouring his perfect features, the harsh words of disgust and the sound of gravel spray as he drove away from me.
Who needs him?
I ignore the "you do" in the back of my mind and sniff. Lifting my head, I pick up my pace again as I enter a dark patch of road. The trees loom overhead and I try really hard not to think of ghosts and demons as my breath quickens.
The distant sound of an engine distracts me. The faint
glow of headlights appear behind me and I smile. Trent feels guilty. Yes! Man, I am going to give him hell for this.
I glance behind me and disappointment sears my insides. The headlights are sitting way too low on the car to be Trent's. He drives
a Jeep Cherokee, this car looks more like a sedan? Or maybe a sports car?
I toy with the idea of sticking out my thumb as it draws near. I'm sure it would be safe enough. I'd just ask for a lift to Big Bear Village then walk from there. No big deal. Maybe I could even ask for a ride to L.A
.. The idea of running away skirts through my brain as I squeeze my thumb inside my fist.
It fights to break free, but I won't let it. I even start filling my mind with every hitch hiking h
orror story I can think of. This works like a charm and my thumb relaxes into submission.
The car is cruising down the hill towards me when a sudden fear rips up my spine. I can see it swerving out of the corner of my eye and turn to watch its erratic movements. I move to the very edge of the road, my boots pushing piles of dirt and stone off the edge of the embankment. My legs hit the
guardrail. With eyes the size of dinner plates I watch the car swerve. Hasn't it seen me? Doesn't it know I'm vulnerable on the side of the road here?
I turn to make an escape, but it's too late.
The headlights illuminate my body for a second, before the car violently swerves away, but not before clipping me. Pain sears through my body and I scream as I'm thrown over the guardrail.
It's like being in a tumble drier as I roll down the hill, scratching myself on pinecones and nature's debris. My descent comes to an abrupt end as I crash into a tree trunk. A loud crack rings like a gun shot inside my head, rattling my brain. I roll away from the tree with a groan and reach for my temple then scream as pain radiates up my arm. My stomach jerks and I feel its contents shifting north. I cover my mouth, but it's pointless.
Out of breath, I try to shift away from my puke, but moving hurts too much. I lay back on the bumpy earth and look up at the sky. The stars are fuzzy and shifting wildly. I blink to bring them into focus, but that just makes it worse. I feel as though the world is falling on top of me. As the stars and treetops come crashing down I hear a young girl scream my name.
I open my eyes.
I turn on my pillow and look at my bedside clock.
"Nicky! It's time to get up! You'll be late for school."
The time registers and I sit up, adrenaline pumping through my system. I hate being late for anything. I go to jump off my bed, but let out a groan instead. My head feels like it's filled with sludge and someone is using my brain as a bass drum.
"Nicky?" My mother opens the door without knocking and peers inside.
I hate it when she does that.
I give her a stony glare.
"Mom, I've asked you to call me Nicole. It's what you put on my birth certificate, remember?"
My mother looks at me on the bed and rolls her eyes. Shaking her head she walks out the door without saying a word.
I want to yell at her to come back and at least respond, but I can't. I want to scream at her for ignoring all the issues, but I never will. This is my life. I remind myself, yet again, that I'll get used to it... won't I?
Unable to ignore my headache, I slowly stand, trying to remember what I did last night. I think I was with Penny and Amber. Was Trent there too? He must have been. What day is it?
I look back at my clock. WED-SEPT-18.
I have school... which I am about to be really late for.
Looking down, I notice I am already dressed. I slept in my clothes? That is too weird. I never do that kind of thing. What time did I get home? How did I get home?
I grab my bag, which had slept on the bed beside me, and rummage through it. Pulling out my small hand mirror, I quickly check my appearance. My hair looks a little ratty. I grab my small brush and tidy it up. Pulling out my gloss, I make my lips shine then smack them together. I still look a little pale and my mascara is starting to slide, making the dark circles beneath my eyes look even worse. I lick my index finger and tidy them up.
Glancing at my bedside clock, I decide I don't have time for much more. I pull my long bangs down to cover
my left eye a little then poof up the back of my thick hair. Time won't allow me perfection this morning.
I actually hate that, but I'd rather look a tad scruffy than be late.
Frowning, I dive back into my bag. Where the hell is my phone?
I need to call Amber to come pick me up. I look at my watch and grimace. She's probably already at school anyway. If she doesn't hear from me by six-thirty, she always assumes I'm skipping out for the day. I haven't done that in a couple of weeks, but whatever.
Man, if she thinks I'm playing hooky without her, she's going to be pissed. I can just imagine the texts I'll encounter when I find my phone.
My lips curl into a pout.
Shoving my stuff back into my bag, I hitch it onto my shoulder and walk out the door.
I guess I'll just have to ask Mom for a ride.
I descend the stairs towards the kitchen and stop at the landing. Like I do every morning, I look out the large, glass
sliding door in the living room. The tall pine tree in our back yard stands there mocking me. When we first moved here, Dad forbade us to climb it. It was too tall and dangerous, but that never stopped us. I study its gnarled branches with a scowl.
Running my hand through my hair, I approach the kitchen with clipped steps.
"Mom, I need a ride to school."
"I don't know, honey, I just said that."
I stand at the entrance to the kitchen. Mom can't see me, she's too busy talking on the phone.
"Well how should I know? Do you keep track of her every movement?"
She slams her coffee mug down. Black liquid jumps over the edge and lands on the counter. She turns to grab a dishcloth as her voice gets louder.
"She's your daughter too, you know."
I cross my arms. So she's talking to Dad... about me. What is her problem anyway? So I'm going to be a little late for school, it's not like I stayed out partying all night.
The ache in my head would suggest
I had. I rub my forehead with a frown. Had I been drinking?
I wouldn't put it past me. When it came to my friends there wasn't a huge difference between school nights and weekends. If we were in the mood, we'd make it happen.
What had we made happen last night? I wish I could remember.
"Yeah," my mother sighs. "I'll call the school to make sure she's turned up."
She rinses out the cloth and neatly places it on the edge of the sink.
"Yep. Love you too," she clips, sounding anything but loving.
I walk into the kitchen.
"I'm going to school, just so you know. Thanks for thinking so highly of me, by the way." I cross my arms and stare at her back. "If you want me to get there on time, you'll need to give me a ride."
My mother ignores me as she gulps down the last of her coffee and gathers her things.
"The silent treatment? That's what you're going with today?" I take another step into the kitchen. "That's really mature
, Mom, great form of punishment. You should start writing for a parenting magazine."
She glances around the kitchen, her gaze brushing over me as she checks to make sure she has everything.
I want to tell her I'm sorry for pissing her off. I want to admit I have no idea what I was doing last night and I'm sorry if I came in really late... again. But I seal my lips. I'm not overly keen on admitting I am clueless about what I was up to... and besides, after this immature silence, she doesn't deserve an apology.
I follow her to the door, wondering if I should even bother pleading for a ride. Images of her stuffy car and the stony silence are pretty hideous, but being late to school has consequences too.
The phone cuts me off. She opens the front door as she pulls it out and
touches the screen.
"Jackie A., my favo
rite client." She gives a merry laugh that makes my stomach churn.
It's so unfair
that her work contacts always get her sunshine, while her family are left with the sludge.
"Of course you're not bothering me. What do you need?"
"A ride to school," I mumble.
"No, that's not a problem. We can make that happen. When would work best for you?"
"Like right now." I raise my voice just a little. Since she's being such a cow, the least I can do is be the irritating teen she thinks I am.
"Well, I have the open home scheduled for two on Saturday, so we still have a little time up our sleeves. Why don't I make some calls and get back to you?" She pauses then laughs again. "Don't worry, you will be my number one priority today."
"Unlike me." I stand in her path. She looks away from me as she nods and hmms at Jackie A. I let out a disgusted huff. "Forget about the ride. I'd rather walk anyway." I turn on my heel and make a quick retreat down the stairs, yelling over my shoulder. "Don't forget to ring the school to make sure I'm not playing hooky."
I cross my arms as I start the long walk to school. It's just over eight miles. There's no way I can walk that far in these heels. Big Bear Village is only a mile or so away. I'll just have to catch a bus from there. Ugh!
look at my watch and pick up the pace. This day has detention written all over it, unless I can sneak in the back. I glance behind me at the approaching car and notice Dale in the driver's seat. His radio is blasting while his fingers tap out a rhythm on the steering wheel. He is completely lost in his head banging music as he speeds past me.
I sigh. Even if he had noticed me, there was no way he was ever going to stop and offer me a ride. Not after what I'd done. I cringe for the gazillionth time as I remember that afternoon.
It had been a few weeks before school broke up for the summer. I was rummaging through my locker while I waited for my friends. He approached quietly, like he always does.
I jumped a mile, having not heard him, but totally held it together. I remember tucking my bangs behind my ear and holding up my chin, hoping he hadn't noticed... not that I cared or anything.
He gave me that classic smirk of his. I don't know why I like it so much. His face is actually really mangled. No one knows what happened to him, the rumors are rife, but he has this really long scar that starts just below his right eye and runs down to his chin. When he smiles it pushes awkwardly out to the side. It's kinda weird how it’s not ugly — not that I'd admit that to my friends.
— he stood there smirking at me, not a mean smirk, but this cute little half smile, and handed me my iPod.
"You left this in English yesterday. My class goes in straight after yours. I tried to catch you after school, but you'd already left."
"Oh, thanks, Da... Darren?"
He shook his head and that smile reappeared. "Don't worry, no one's watching, you don't have to pretend to forget my name. We're practically neighbours, remember?"
I sighed and snatched the iPod from his hand. "Thank you, Dale. I was wondering where it was."
"Listen, I know it's kind of intrusive, but I checked out your play list. You have really great taste."
"You what?" I was mortified. This was my private stuff and he was scrolling through it and...he thought I had great taste. I had to squash my grin while I strove for indignation.
He totally ignored my power glare and pulled something out of his bag.
"I saw this at a second hand store a couple of weeks ago. I was gonna keep it, but I thought you might like it more."
I took the bag with a confused frown and pulled out a CD. My gasp must have been audible, because he totally laughed.
"Granite? I can't believe you like this band."
"An obscure heavy metal, glam rock band from the nineties? What's not to like?"
"I didn't know anyone our age had even heard of them before."
"Yeah, well, some of us have."
"This is..." I looked at the CD, struggling for words. "This is the only album I don't have."
"I know, that's why I'm giving it to you."
How sweet was that?
He shoved his hands in his pockets and gave me one of those closed mouth grins then cleared his throat. "So, why do you like 'em so much?"
I kept my eyes on the CD case. I had never told anyone this before, but the words popped out before I could stop them.
"My Dad would sometimes take me on his business trips to L.A. and he'd always blast it. We'd sing our heads off."
I don't know why that memory stings so much. Maybe it's because it never happens anymore. It doesn't stop me loving the band though... in secret.
Dale's smile was on full beam as he nodded at my story. "That is very cool."
He looked at me for a long beat then dug into his bag as he started talking.
"Well, my sister and I always loved the band and we went to their reunion concert last year."
"Oh yeah, they were playing at the Hollywood Bowl, right?"
"Uh-huh. It was awesome." He pulled out a metal chain with two dog tags swinging from it.
"No way." I grabbed them up and studied the band's iconic pi
ece of jewelry. GRANITE — Rock Hard was punched into the metal. "This is so cool. Did they throw it from the stage or something?"
"Yeah. I got real lucky that night. I caught these and a drum stick."
"I know. Pretty cool, huh?"
"Totally." I should have curbed my enthusiasm here. If my friends ever found out I liked a band like this, they'd hassle me senseless. But I couldn't help it. I was talking to another die hard Granite fan. Aside from my Dad, I didn't know any others.
I squeezed the tags in my hand and passed them back.
"No, you keep 'em. I've got the drum stick."
"Sure you can."
I tipped my head with a cynical smile. "What's the catch? You want a date or something?"
He blushed and his face creased with a broad smile. "No catch. But if you are asking me out..."
"I'm not! I just..." I felt all flustered and was probably blushing up a storm, but then my eyes popped wide and my blood ran cold.
I threw the CD and dog tags into my locker and slammed it closed as my friends approached from behind me.
Dale gave me a dry look. "Really?"
I pleaded with my eyes as best I could, but he ignored it and pasted on a cheesy smile for my friends.
Amber's nose crinkled and Penny just looked awkward.