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Authors: Janet Nissenson

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BOOK: Covet
6.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ISBN: 978-1-483-56967-3
Dedicated to fans of swoonworthy heroes, and heroines who touch your heart; to all those who believe in love at first sight, fate, and star-crossed lovers; and to everyone who enjoys not just a romance but a love story
Chapter One
Tucson, Arizona - October
She knew it was a Wednesday even before she opened her eyes. She knew it without having to glance at a calendar or her phone, or without being told what day of the week it was. Tessa Pedersen knew it was a Wednesday – for her what had become the most dreaded day of the week over the years – because of the unsettled feeling in her belly, a feeling that was rarely wrong.
Bad things always happened on Wednesdays. Or, at least, bad things always seemed to happen to
on those days. As a little girl, she’d once broken her wrist on a Wednesday, a school playground accident. Whenever her mother had impulsively decided to pack up and leave town – which had happened far too many times in Tessa’s sixteen years to count any longer – more often than not those poorly thought out moves had occurred on this day of the week. Just two weeks ago a geometry test – one that she’d known from the start would be almost impossible for her to get a good grade on – had come back with a dreaded D, accompanied by a note from the teacher saying that she needed to study much harder and ought to consider hiring a tutor.
And it had been on a Wednesday, nearly five months to the day now, that her mother had sunk into her latest bout of depression. And this time, Tessa despaired that Gillian would ever pull herself back out.
Tessa winced as she rolled up to a sitting position on the lumpy old sofa that had served as her bed ever since she and Gillian had moved into this tiny studio apartment last spring. Like many of the places they had lived in over the years, this one had come partially furnished, and, like so many of the others, the furnishings were in rather deplorable condition. In addition to the sofa, there were a couple of rickety chairs and scuffed tables, two wooden barstools that served as seating at the breakfast bar, and the daybed that Gillian rarely left these days.
Rubbing her lower back that had stiffened up during the restless sleep she’d endured on the less than supportive sofa, Tessa walked over to the far wall of the room where her mother lay motionless and fast asleep. She was alarmed to realize yet again how much Gillian had aged over the past few months, even though she wasn’t even forty years old. Because she rarely if ever ventured outside these days, her complexion was almost ghostly pale. Gillian had always been slender, but given her lack of appetite she now appeared almost emaciated. When Tessa had helped her into the shower two days ago, bullying her into washing her hair and changing into clean clothes for the first time in days, she’d been shocked to notice just how skinny and frail her mother was. But despite Tessa’s best efforts, no matter how much she pleaded and cajoled and even threatened, Gillian just couldn’t seem to summon up enough effort to eat anything nowadays. It was just one more sign that she was giving up, that she had sunk too far into the blackness that had always threatened to consume her to ever surface again.
And it was that realization that truly terrified Tessa. She couldn’t lose her mother, she just
Gillian was all she had, the only family she’d
had, and despite everything that her mother had put her through over the years, Tessa continued to love her fiercely, and to do everything in her power to look after her. A tall order, indeed, for a girl who’d just turned sixteen this past May, but Tessa had grown used to such responsibilities over the years. Living with a chronic manic-depressive had a way of making someone grow up in a hurry.
Tessa gave her mother a gentle shake, not much more than a light touch on the shoulder, but it was enough for Gillian to open one blue eye reluctantly. She groaned and shook her head, turning her face into the pillow and retreating back into whatever darkness was surrounding her.
“Mom, you really need to get up and eat something, okay?” pleaded Tessa. “Look, I’m just going to take a quick shower and get dressed, and then I’ll fix you some breakfast. I’ll be right out.”
The unsettled feeling that she’d woken up with just a few minutes ago continued to intensify as she hurried through her shower. As usual, the water pressure was less than adequate, and it always took her a few extra minutes to wash all of the shampoo from her long hair. It had been months, probably closer to a year, since she’d had her curly blonde locks trimmed, but things like haircuts, makeup, and trendy clothes were luxuries Tessa had become accustomed to going without. Money was always scarce, barely enough to cover the rent and utilities on this Section 8 apartment, pay for some groceries, and put gas in the car.
A car that she had thought more than once about selling, especially after having sunk a few hundred dollars over the past months into replacing the battery, buying a new set of tires, having the oil changed. But Tessa knew that the decade old Toyota wouldn’t bring in very much in the way of funds, and that having the car saved her a lot of time going to and from school and her two part-time jobs since she would have to take a series of buses otherwise.
And the car also provided her with some small sense of security. There had been more than one time over the years, after all, when she and Gillian had slept in their car, having had no money, no friends, and nowhere else to go. Tessa was determined that they wouldn’t have to resort to such measures ever again – or wind up in a homeless shelter as they had also done several times in her life. Between the welfare checks Gillian received, and what Tessa earned from her jobs, it was just enough to keep them going, and she kept her fingers crossed every day that things would remain status quo until she graduated from high school in less than two years time. Then Tessa could get a full time job, and finally get Gillian the help she needed so desperately.
Tessa dried off quickly, reluctant to spend more time than necessary in the shower stall with its cracked tile walls and slightly mildewed floor. After moving in last spring, she’d scrubbed the entire bathroom from floor to ceiling, but no amount of cleaning would ever disguise the fact that the room was old and worn, with rather disreputable fixtures and a musty odor that even the strongest air freshener couldn’t mask.
She pulled on a pair of plain cotton panties and a well worn bra that was by now at least a size too small. Her breasts had developed early, before she’d even reached her teens, and they didn’t seem to want to stop growing. It was a good thing that she was also tall – five eight – so that the full curve of her bosom didn’t make her appear too top-heavy. She needed to wear better bras, ones that actually fit and offered more support than the discount store ones she owned. But money was always an issue, and her modest paychecks were needed to buy necessities like laundry soap and bread and cereal, not expensive lingerie from Victoria’s Secret.
She received a generous employee discount at the two different clothing chains she worked at – Old Navy after school five days a week, and Forever 21 on the weekends – and had been able to supplement her old jeans and worn T-shirts with a few new pieces over time. The steaming hot weather here in the Arizona desert had finally begun to cool off with the arrival of autumn, and she didn’t have to stick to the lightweight cotton skirts and sundresses that she practically lived in during the summer. This morning she put on a newer pair of medium wash jeans, and a blue and white striped T-shirt before shoving her feet into dark blue flip flops. Her makeup consisted of a coat of drugstore brand mascara and a swipe of bubble gum flavored lip gloss.
Tessa sighed when she walked back into the main room of the apartment – the one that served as living, dining, and sleeping space – as she noticed that Gillian had curled back up into an almost fetal position on the narrow daybed. Tessa knew that her mother would spend the vast majority of the day in that very same position, rousing herself only when she needed to use the bathroom or perhaps get a drink of water. It was doubtful that she’d eat any of the lunch Tessa had prepared for her – a tuna fish sandwich and some cut-up fruit. She hadn’t eaten yesterday’s lunch, or Monday’s, and Tessa had ended up having the untouched meals for her own dinner. Food was far too precious and expensive a commodity to ever waste, even if Tessa had long ago begun to despise tuna fish – along with cold cereal, ramen noodles, and canned soup. But they were unfortunately among the most affordable items in the grocery store, and she had learned a long time ago how to stretch a dollar to its limits.
She was fortunate enough to qualify for reduced price breakfasts and lunches at school, paying around a dollar a day for both meals, so she only popped two slices of bread into the toaster this morning, even though the likelihood of Gillian actually eating anything was slim to none. Tessa poured a small glass of orange juice while the bread toasted, and then buttered the slices once they were done. Plate and glass in hand, she walked over to the daybed and set them down before once again giving her mother a gentle shake.
Gillian gave another groan, shaking her head in protest, but Tessa was persistent.
“Come on, Mom. You’ve got to eat something. It’s been almost an entire day since you had anything, and you’re wasting away to nothing.”
“Not hungry,” mumbled Gillian, burrowing her face into the pillow.
“Please eat something anyway,” begged Tessa. “Please? For me?”
Gillian heaved a tired sigh and dragged herself to a sitting position. Tessa’s heart sunk a little deeper when she realized just how gaunt and haggard her once beautiful mother looked now. Gillian had always been a vibrant, stunning woman, her flawless complexion glowing with health and vitality, the big blue eyes so like Tessa’s shining with liveliness, her thick, blonde curls tumbling in careless abandon down her back. Even as a little girl Tessa had noticed how everyone stared at her beautiful mother – especially the men – and she had always felt a little thrill when people would comment on how much mother and daughter looked like each other.
But now Gillian was pale and washed out, her cheekbones so sharply defined they looked like knife blades. Her blue eyes were dull and lifeless, and it had been so long since her pale, bloodless lips had curved upward into a smile that Tessa feared she’d forgotten how to do so. Her hair was lank and greasy, falling in tangles that she seldom consented to letting Tessa comb out for her. Tessa forced herself not to wrinkle her nose at the unpleasant odor of Gillian’s unwashed body and the clothes she’d been wearing round the clock for the past two days. It was always a huge undertaking to force Gillian into the shower these days, and it took a combination of pleading, bullying, and strong arm tactics to get her to do so.
It didn’t help that Gillian was always complaining of feeling cold, and could usually be found huddled under a couple of blankets and a quilt – this despite the fact that they lived in Tucson, one of the hottest cities in the country, where average temperatures in the summer were in the triple digits. Tessa would often come home from school or work to find the air conditioner – the one that barely functioned half the time anyway – shut off, and the third floor apartment stifling hot, with her mother still claiming to feel cold despite the way her skin felt clammy and hot. Gillian’s perpetual chill was yet another disturbing sign that her body was gradually beginning to shut down, just like her mind had been doing for the past few years.
BOOK: Covet
6.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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